Syed Haider Raza (1922-2016)

S.H. Raza in his studio
Raza during his early years in his Paris studio

A dot marks an end in script. However, when speaking of Syed Haider Raza, a special legend it led to new beginnings, both in his early years and later in his art journey. Raza was a restless young man with an unbridled mind. While at school, his teacher drew a dot on a wall, trying to make him focus on it with the intention of calming his wandering mind. Raza recollects this incident as formative in his approach to art and even life.

A visual depiction of the sacred through the modern idiom invokes only one name in Indian art – Raza. His early years by the Narmada valley shaped his perspectives on culture, tradition, religion and their broader interpretations through art. His deep meditations on these subjects, all through his artistic journey, resulted in the emergence of a unique motif in Indian contemporary art – the ‘bindu’.

Raza’s art was nothing short of an obsession. This obsession wasn’t limited to a certain theme, but was a quality of mind that pursued everything it touched – whether it be geometry, theology or natural phenomena – with an encompassing intensity. His fascination and love for poetry, nature, and the elements at large inspired him. His exposure and training in Paris were ideal in shaping this enthusiasm. Raza’s landscapes were therefore strong, vibrant and even his ‘Bindu’ was derived from the intimacy he maintained with his themes. He reflects on this in his own words: “Painting is something alive as human beings in its different manifestations… It is a vital process of becoming. Just imagine how fascinating it is that the seed contains the total inherent forces of a plant, of animal life, and so on and so forth. And that could be the same process in form too!”

Raza will be remembered as an indispensable force that energised the modern art movement in India. His emergence as a modern artist was at a time when the genre was struggling to find its unique language in the country and his was an influence that catalysed this seminal art movement.

At 94, Raza left behind a verse from the Bhagavad Gita in his personal diary:
Hidden in Nature, which is Mine [My] own,
I emanate forth again and again
All these multitudes of being
necessarily by the force of nature.

Bhagavad Gita – IX, 8.

Raza found and met art at the source of his being; the beauty of this encounter is that it is one that continues to flourish, in the minds of all those who seek from it, even in times that know him no more.

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