Fashion is a vibrant and ever-evolving art form that reflects the spirit of an era. In the annals of Indian fashion history, one event stands out as a pivotal moment in time – the first Calico fashion show of 1958. In 1958, Bhanu Athaiya was invited by Ebrahim Alkazi to design the first traveling promotional fashion show in independent India for Calico Mills. This event took place at the "India '58" Trade Fair in New Delhi, making it a pivotal moment in Indian fashion history.
Bhanu Athaiya's life story is a testament to the power of talent, determination, and passion. Born in Kolhapur, India, in 1929, Bhanu's artistic journey was shaped by her father Annasaheb Rajopadhye, an amateur artist who introduced her to the world of art. Kolhapur, a significant artistic center in the early 20th century, was a hotbed of creativity and social upheaval, with the local king actively promoting artisans. This environment exposed Bhanu to the likes of Abalal Rahiman, Dhurandhar, and Baburao Painter, who were prominent figures in the artistic circle of Kolhapur. Of particular note, Baburao Painter was a multifaceted artist who made significant contributions to both painting and filmmaking in India.
Ram Kumar’s existence in the art world was much like a peaceful mountain, exuding a sense of serenity and enduring presence. The reticent artist wielded both the pen and brush but ultimately embraced the latter as his mightier sword of choice. Born in 1924 in Shimla, Kumar’s meditative surroundings deeply affected his sensibilities as an artist. He imbibed a sense of calm from the silent mountains and the clear blue skies that found expression in his paintings. His affinity with nature, the serene flow of slow-seeping rivers, the allure of solitary spaces, and the haunting charm of abandoned structures would all combine to establish him as the foremost significant abstract painter in the Modern Indian art world.
As we prepare for the exhibitions of Gobardhan Ash and Rathin Maitra, we have realised that the context and continuum of the modernist movement around the 1940s are somehow forgotten. We strive to bring them to light with the hope of more research and discussions. (Refer here) This write-up focuses on Calcutta and Bombay.
At Prinseps, we are working to change the discourse to redefine the critical period for modernism in India as the first half of the 20th century. Though academia reiterates the same, the art trade seems to have strayed with a focus on the later part of the 20th century. The early 20th century witnessed the uprising of major art movements questioning the status quo.
I sit staring into the blank canvas. My mind is unfettered, reaching out to embrace the world. All these shapes and scenes flit lucidly through my head, some familiar, others, I know not. Speaking of Modern Art, I must emphasise the fact that the art being created these days, cannot simply be labeled as Indian Art.
Bhanu Athaiya won India its first Oscar in 1983 for the film Gandhi in the Best Costume Design category. As a child, Bhanu Athaiya was surrounded by the growing surge of Indian consciousness and the influence of Gandhi. People had taken to wearing khadi clothes and Gandhi caps. This first-hand influence of Gandhi in her life was something she could not have developed with any amount of reading or research. Richard Attenborough, a foreign film director, came to India to make a film on Gandhi after 17 years of visiting the country repeatedly. He appointed Bhanu as the film's costume designer.
Rathin Maitra (b. 1913), along with Prodosh Das Gupta, established the Calcutta Group, which gained widespread recognition in India for its influential contribution to modern Indian painting much before the Progressives.
Following the opening of The Legacy of Bhanu Athaiya exhibit was an insightful discussion between stalwarts Ritu Kumar (Textile Historian and Fashion Designer) and Kiran Nadar (Founder and Chairperson KNMA). H.H. MAHARANI Radhika Raje Gaekwad of Baroda inaugurated the event and fondly spoke of her learnings while documenting and intensively researching the legacy of India's most globally renowned costume designer Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya.
Actor Tanuja narrates Bhanu Athaiya's transition from art to Indian cinema while carrying her love for art on her sleeve. Lovingly addressed by Bhanu as 'Tanu', the actor reminisces about Bhanu's eagerness to delve into the actor's role before designing her costumes.
In these personal notes by Bhanu Athaiya, she fondly recalls her mother Shantabai with deep gratitude, love, and pride. She deems her mother the enabler of her success, dreams, and aspirations. Read on to know more.
Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya (b. 1929) was born in her 300-year-old sprawling ancestral house in the heart of Kolhapur. Bhanu grew up surrounded by indigenous and western political, social and cultural influences. Her ability to translate all this information into the medium of cinema and art made her the first Indian ever to win an Oscar. Bhanu Athaiya is not only recognised as the revered doyenne of Indian costume designers; but also a remarkable modernist artist.
In lieu of India's 75th year of Independence, Google Arts and Culture celebrated Bhanu Rajopadhye Athaiya as one of India's trail-blazing icons. She leaves behind a rich and wonderful legacy built on creativity, fortitude, and immense talent. One of the early members of the Bombay Progressives group and India's first Oscar-winning Costume Designer, Bhanu Rajopadhye had a historically important early career as an artist, exploring the possibilities of Indian Modernism with her contemporaries at the J.J. School of Art and the Progressive Artists' Group.
An unabating artist whose creative expression was unfazed by the trials and tribulations he faced, A.A. Raiba (b. 1922) was relentless; almost restless in his artistic pursuits till the very end saying, “Itni Umar Gayi, Kam khatam nahi Hua".  His visual narrative was derived from his love for Urdu poetry and Islamic Literature. Born in Mumbai, most of Raiba’s works exude nostalgia and are intimate observations of old Bombay and his travels all over the country. Raiba’s oeuvre is rooted in intensively researched history with influences from his lifelong practice in Calligraphy.
A ray of light enters Lajmi’s room and falls on a half-painted canvas. The artist’s room is dipped in evening hues as twilight knocks on the door. Brushes stacked in paint holders stand in awe-filled unison like silent spectators as unsuspecting Lajmi continues to paint into the night. Seated on a wooden chair propped up on two cushions, Lajmi’s creative spirit knows no rest. Lalitha Lajmi’s nocturnal artmaking which was first born out of necessity is now a habit she has woven into her creative process.
Like a blithe child colouring on the walls despite protests, nothing deterred F.N. Souza (b. 1924) from asserting his art. His art, whose first impact is to shock, elicits a childlike element of uninhibited honesty with no filter, unafraid, and almost oblivious to those offended. His unrestrained and thought-provoking body of work makes one wonder about the power of art and its hold over the human psyche. Broad and bold lines jump out of the canvas attacking with speed, deeming him an eternal rebel.
A meditative quality fills the senses as one steps into Raza's creative sanctuary in Delhi. Walls of art adorn each corridor, doorway, and room, giving one a glimpse inside the artist's mind. The leitmotif of Bindu in Raza's art looks out from all his canvases. While old photographs and a typewriter tell stories from another time. This studio is an exhibition of Raza's intimate world as an artist and a dreamer.
Bhanu Athaiya was the first woman artist to receive a gold medal from the J.J. School of Art for her work 'Lady in Repose', which was the first-ever abstract painting to be made by a member of the Progressive Artists' Group . This work which she addressed as Lying Lady in one of her handwritten letters along with The Nuns was painted as a part of her study at J.J. where Vasudeo S. Gaitonde was her mentor. In 1952, Gaitonde created the artwork 'Painting No.1' displayed at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Ebrahim Alkazi and his wife Roshen Padamsee were significantly responsible for promoting many members of the Progressive Artists' Group not only in India but also at an international level. Apart from Alzaki; Mulkraj Anand, Walter Langhammer, Emmanuel Schlesinger, Rudi Von Leyden, and Kekoo Gandhy were also active as collectors.
Ash’s experiments in art from the 1950s are characterised as avatars; primitive artworks depicting personality traits. His paintings comprise a technique composed of a scientific arrangement of colour dots, almost pointillist. His works are impeccable character studies. Listed below are Ash's avatars up for auction and an attempt to decode the same with reference to their titles.