The National interviews SH Raza just before the opening of a show of his work in Kolkata:
You were born in the village of Babaria (in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh). Did your initial studies begin there?
Yes, that’s right. I come from from a very modest family background and lived initially in Madhya Pradesh. In time, I moved to Bombay [Mumbai] and took admission in the JJ School of Art. During my stay in Bombay, I began learning French. So, when the French government announced scholarships to study art, I applied for it and was called for an interview. I was the only applicant who could speak French. As a result, instead of a one-year scholarship, I was offered a two-year one. This took me to France in 1950.
Am I right that the early part of your artistic life was influenced by western art?
My creativity has gone through two or three important periods. Indeed, from 1950 to the 1970s, it was influenced by western, or more specifically, French art. From around 1975, I tried to incorporate Indian ethnography, themes and symbolisms like the Bindu [Sanskrit word for “dot”, signifying universal energy] and Mandala [meaning “circle” in Sanskrit].
What is your observation of the Indian art boom of the last eight to nine years?
It did not actually happen suddenly. For this, artists of our generation have worked for decades. Money was never our aim as painters. It was the creation of art that mattered. Truth always prevails.
Ninety Years Lived for the Love of Art (The National)