In Tagore`s footsteps: S.H. Raza fortune lights up Indian arts space

New Delhi: S.H. Raza, one of the greatest surviving names in Indian contemporary art, is walking in the footsteps of pioneering arts promoter Rabindranath Tagore -- using his personal fortune to bring young talent to light and also several new initiatives, including a mammoth multi-arts festival and fellowships for critics.

The artist, who turns 90 on Feb 22 and returned to India last year after spending nearly 60 years in France, has donated Rs.3 crore to build an arts corpus and has willed his entire fortune, including his art works, to the corpus -- the Raza Foundation -- after his death.

The initiatives are symbolic of a fledgling trend in Indian arts and culture space, which is trying to grow out of institutionalised government control. In the first decade of the 20th century, Tagore had pledged his personal fortune for the cause of arts and education to build Visva Bharati at Shantiniketan -- but such efforts have been sporadic.

Noted poet and culture protagonist Ashok Vajpeyi, the executive trustee of the Raza Foundation, said: "Raza`s efforts can be compared to those by Carnatic music exponent M.S. Subbulakshmi and Pune-based theatre personality P.N. Deshpande, who donated their personal fortunes to charity -- and hopefully to Rabindranath Tagore, who was the champion."

A nine-day multi-arts festival Aviraam, from Feb 13-21, is the first presented by the Raza Foundation and celebrates young visual and contemporary arts.

The foundation has so far awarded Rs.100,000 each to 39 artists, performers and poets, to help them further their arts.

An exhibition by 17 award winning young artists opened in the capital Feb 13.

"The festival features 34 of the 39 recipients of the Raza Foundation awards," Vajpeyi told IANS.

Vajpeyi said apart from the maiden multi-arts festival, the foundation has also instituted a series of lectures under the banner Art Matters in collaboration with the India International Centre (IIC) to encourage public involvement in arts.

"It will cover topics like `Democracy & Culture`, `Disappearing Criticism` and `Memory and Space for Creativity`," Vajpeyi said.

The memorial lectures have been named after V.S Gaitonde for arts, Habib Tanvir for theatre, Agyeya for poetry, Kelucharan Mohapatra for dance, Kumar Gandharva for music, Mani Kaul for cinema and Daya Krishna for philosophy.

This year, the foundation has converted the awards to five annual fellowships.

"The fellowships will be awarded to five young critics for visual arts, poetry, music and dance. We feel that there is not critical mass around the cultural area -- despite the widespread reportage of events. We want to encourage critical activity around the areas," Vajpeyi said.

On Feb 22, the foundation will launch, Samas (connection)-- its maiden journal devoted to arts, culture and literature.

"I think that there are enough people in the world of art and culture who can donate money to promote younger people," Vajpeyi said.

According to Vajpeyi, it was easier to channel funds through private organisations because government institutions are tied with procedural wrangles. "But the government keeps doing its own thing," added Vajpeyi.

The Raza Foundation comprises seven members, including Ashok Vajpeyi, gallerist Arun Vadehra, dancer Prerana Shrimali, poet and critic Ranjit Hoskote and the artist, said artist Manish Pushkale, one of the trustees of the foundation.

"The foundation is different from the organisations like the Jackson-Pollock, Paul Klee, Picasso and Dali Foundation abroad in its non-profit approach, to promote culture and revival of dwindling art forms like Dhrupad. He uses his personal fortune," Pushkale said.

Raza grew up in small towns of Madhya Pradesh and moved to Paris on scholarship in 1950. The artist describes the foundation -- registered as a small body in 2001 -- as "his contribution to young artistes who keep the Indian culture space vibrant".


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