France’s role in Western modernism is well-trodden art historical territory. Less well-known, but equally significant, is the impact French art movements had on modern Indian artists.
India’s French Connection: Indian Artists in France, on view at New York’s DAG Gallery, offers a long-overdue survey of the many Indian artists who studied and worked in Paris in the 20th century — all of whom have largely been excluded from the French art historical canon.
Though artists like Amrita Sher-Gil and Shiavax Chavda had already made Paris their artistic home between the First and Second World Wars, it was only in the post-WWII period that many Indian artists travelled to Paris to study in the hallowed classrooms of the École des Beaux-Arts, Académie Julian, Atelier 17, and Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Seeking to break out of the rigid structures of colonial arts education, artists like Jehangir Sabavala, S.H. Raza, Akbar Padamsee, Sakti Burman and Krishna Reddy made their way to France, followed by many others. After Indian independence, the project of nation-building overpowered all other national interests, and arts education continued to follow the archaic colonial curriculum. Paris’ promise of modernism and its vibrant cultural milieu promised the Indian artists a greater artistic freedom.