As a country rich in historical and religious culture, India is a country very rich in traditional art forms such as music, sculpture, and dance. The subjects of traditional art are intertwined with their religious beliefs such as Hinduism. The architecture and embellishments of ancient temples is an excellent illustration of this. However, India’s writers, artists, and artisans have also created valuable works of art under the modernist movement. The movement began in the latter half of the 20th century when India became a newly democratic country and led by its very own Indian National Congress. At this point in time, the culture was heavily influenced by politics, such as the separation between India and Pakistan. Writers and artists declared themselves as working under modern or secular movements. They were a mixed people with various individuals working on formal issues, political concerns, foreign art practices, or indigenous art.
The Progressive Artists’ Group
In the 1930s and 40s, Bombay became the home of self-titled “progressive” artists who empathized with the teachings of Marxism and communism. Some notable artists among them were Fida Husain and Francis Newton Souza. Aside from their leftist leanings, they moved away from the nationalist art style proposed by the Bengal School and embraced international practices in their art. Over the succeeding decades, Souza gained an infamous reputation for his artwork that is simultaneously religious and erotic. His style incorporates influences from international art movements like Cubism, Surrealism, Primitivism, and Expressionism. Husain, on the other hand, still retained indigenous traditions and influences in his art, specifically that of Indian cinema. His creativity showed exposure to European artists’ creative style like that of Oskar Kokoschka and Emil Nolde.
Indian Culture Mixed with Modern Art
Although artists may have turned to less traditional subjects and imbibed the characteristics of international art, their Indian culture still makes its way into their artwork, making them effortlessly unique. Natvar Bhavsar is an Abstract Expressionist painter who studied in New York among contemporary painters of the art movement. However, the vibrant colors that are blended in his work are still influenced by Hinduism. Another is Nasreen Mohamedi whose ink drawings made in the minimalist style echoes the aesthetics of Indian music. The clear and clean lines of her work are also reminiscent of architecture and design from the religion of Islam. Arpita Singh’s figurative work is made from impasto point, which is pigment mixed with a little amount of oil. Her artwork is similar to the folk art quilts in India.
Inventing Traditions through Art
K. G. Subramanyan studied under the tutelage of Nandalal Bose who resides in Santiniketan near Calcutta. Bose’s was an art school founded by a national Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore. The school focused on emphasizing Indian handicrafts and traditions in their artwork. However, Subramanyan’s art is distinctive as his work seemingly creates “new traditions” with the juxtaposition of urban trends and folk art and that of popular art with contemporary art. He has written about art theory as well. He is also passing on his unique aesthetics and artistic style to a younger generation of artists in Baroda at the Maharaja Sayajirao University.