The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India continues at the Asia Society Museum
The Progressive Artists’ Group represented a microcosm of class, caste, and religion, making them the perfect poster boys for the Nehruvian ideal of secularism.
At the dawn of a new Indian nation in 1947, a country awoke from its long colonial slumber to confront the challenges of Independence. The departure of the British and the ensuing bloodbath of Partition witnessed the formation of two nations built along religious fault lines, India and Pakistan. Pakistan embraced a Muslim identity, while India elected a secular vision for its future under the stewardship of its first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. His political ethos of “unity in diversity” was a rallying cry for plurality, a country for all, in which all religions could cohabit and progress together.
This new India necessitated a new art that broke free of the reins of the British Raj and spoke in the grand rhetoric of the newly formed Republic. A current show The Progressive Revolution: Modern Art for a New India at the Asia Society Museum provides a compelling narrative for the parallel constructions of the Indian nation, the trauma of Partition and the formation of its artistic identity. The protagonists are a group of young firebrands that were drawn together for their love of art, politics, and revolution. They called themselves the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG).
PAG comprised of Hindus, Muslims and Christians, and a microcosm of class and caste, making them the perfect poster boys for the Nehruvian ideal of secularism. Although some of them came from India’s hinterlands, the cosmopolitan city of Bombay (now Mumbai) became their common stomping ground.
The artists sought to invent new idioms to cast overboard the academic realism that had been in vogue under the Raj.