Death hasn’t intervened: S.H. Raza’s rich legacy lives on (July 23 is iconic artist’s 1st death anniversary)

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New Delhi, July 22 (IANS) It’s been a year since famed Indian artist S.H. Raza’s death on July 23. A legend in the true sense of the word, he popularised Indian concepts and iconography globally and built an impressive legacy of modern art.

He passed away at the age of 94 after a prolonged illness but his luminous legacy remains undminished, thanks to the Raza Foundation that the artist himself established.

The Foundation was set up in 2001 with the aim of promoting visual arts, poetry and music, among others. Initially, there were only three founding trustees — Raza, Arun Vadehra (of Vadehra Art Gallery) and poet and critic Ashok Vajpeyi.

The generosity of the artist was such that even after funding the organisation, he did not wish his name to be used. It was Vajpeyi who had to convince Raza to allow his name in the Foundation’s title.

“He was such a genuine and simple man… It took me three days to persuade him before he agreed,” Vajpeyi, the Foundation’s current managing trustee, told IANS.

“Because he was such a towering personality and renowned globally, I thought his name would help it in becoming a brand in itself. It would have perhaps not risen to this height if it was just called by any other name.”

Today, the Raza Foundation is one of the most active cultural organisations in the country and besides organising a plethora of events, discussions, seminars and exhibitions, it also supports individuals and organisations by offering resources and grants.

Its immensely popular “Art Matters” series — panel discussions on contemporary issues — is a complete sellout. So far 46 editions have been held and it has become an integral part of our culture space and activities.

“There are three or four basic aspects of his legacy. One is the physical or artistic aspect, which includes the place where he lived, where he worked, his artworks and books. We have made sufficient efforts to ensure that all of these aspects are preserved.

“Then, there was his willingness to help others. As long as he was alive, he did not allow a single penny from the Foundation’s fund to be spent on him. We are carrying forward this legacy by giving grants and supporting young artists and institutions promoting arts in the country,” Vajpeyi said.

He also said that the Raza Foundation is playing a particularly crucial role — especially at this point in time.

“We are living in times when state support for the arts is negligible and corporate support is still to blossom. It is because of this that the Foundation’s role is all the more crucial,” he maintained.

Raza was born in 1922 in Mandla in what is now Madhya Pradesh. He moved to Montparnasse in Paris aged 28 after securing a French government scholarship in 1950. His work on pictorial research won him the “Prix de la Critique” in 1956.

In the years that followed, he travelled across Europe and widely exhibited his works in France, where he lived for six decades. In 2015, he was conferred the “Commandeur de la Legion d’Honneur”, the highest French honour, for his artistic contributions.

Cut to the present: Nestling in the lap of Narmada river, the picturesque town of Mandla will be soaked in sublime remembrance as it observes the first death anniversary of its famous son. A series of events have been planned on Sunday, July 23, to commemorate Raza’s memory and perpetuate his legacy.

A unique participatory artist workshop and a concert of nirgun music are among the programmes that have been lined up by the Foundation to pay tribute to the artist, who lies buried next to his father in Mandla.

Terry Pratchett, in his acclaimed novel “Reaper Man”, famously wrote: “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.”

Raza’s afterlife personifies this. Death hasn’t intervened as the rich legacy that Raza left behind lives on and continues to give direction to numerous lives.

(Saket Suman can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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