MEMORY OF THE COLLECTOR
Uma nair Remembers fondly on the other side of the life and influence of a distinguished director and theater artist, Ebrahim Alkazi
An important contribution that Tyeb Mehta and some of his colleagues have made to Indian art is that they strive to banish sentimentality from their works. In my opinion, the sworn enemy of Indian art and culture, past and present, is this quagmire of sentimentalism.
Extract from a lecture given by Ebrahim Alkazi at the opening of Tyeb’s exhibition in October 1959.
Alkazi, founder and director of the Art Heritage Gallery in New Delhi passed away on August 4, 2020. Known to the theater world with magnificent productions, Alkazi was also one of the first Indian collectors of Indian contemporary art. He built his reputation in the capital Delhi as a builder of institutions, revered theater educator, true champion of artists, collector of philatelic art, brilliant curator of exhibitions and mentor of generations of actors on stage and on stage. ‘screen.
A close friend of Tyeb and Francis Newton Souza, founding member of the Mumbai-based Progressive Artist’s Group, Alkazi had a keen sense of contemporary practices and artistic heritage; it functioned as a vanguard space that had an eye on the best in the country. Long before the art world woke up with Tyeb’s works, it was Alkazi who bought his Kali (1989), Tyeb told a reviewer in 2005. Tyeb respected and referred to his friend: “Alkazi was also a brilliant artist, he understood the West artistic genres and had produced many works. I wonder where they are … “
Alkazi and Souza
Among his historical collection of the best of India – collected for the Alkazi Foundation – the best was arguably his collection of Souzas. In 1996, the Shridharani in Delhi hosted an epic solo exhibition of Souza, his roommate and friend from his days in London.
Souza’s relationship to drawing has been described by Alkazi, Souza’s longtime friend and patron, as “as natural and essential to him as breathing … his only connection to life in times of distress” .
Alkazi had poignant stories to share about his relationship with Souza. The epic work of Souza Family (1956) was one of many preserved on a bridge in Goa. He found Souza exceptional as an artist.
We remember Alkazi’s words from his early years in London: “I remember taking a cart full of paintings by Souza and walking down Oxford Street and Bond Street trying to sell them.
Alkazi was friends with the Progressive Artist’s Group, but he was also critical and made no effort when he had to tell the truth.
In 1954, after a performance by the Progressive Artist’s Group, Alkazi questioned their existence, writing in The Theater Unit Bulletin: “What keeps the group together is not a common aesthetic, but a herd instinct for self-preservation and security. against the weak attacks of a Public. “
A critical visual eye
Alkazi was not only known for his critical eye and theatrical mastery, his life was a testament to his deep interest in the relationship between art and theater. He received the ‘Living Treasures of Bombay Award’ in recognition of his contribution to the cultural life of the city of Mumbai. As director of the Art Heritage Gallery of Triveni Kala Sangam, he was one of the first promoters of artists such as Souza and Maqbool Fida Husain.
Last year at Shridharani and Art Heritage in Triveni, Alkazi’s first works, completed over 60 years ago, came to life in Opening Lines. Organized by Ranjit Hoskote, who spent two years assembling the curatorial masterpiece, with the magnificent design dictated by Amal Allana – Alkazi’s daughter – who said she found 99 works on paper, carefully knotted in a package.
The exhibition was a mixture of memories and precious memories. Old photographs of Akbar Padamsee, VS Gaitonde, MF Husain and Davierwalla, brought back the beauty of shared and cherished relationships – all collaborated in his productions.
Alkazi had a deep understanding of cubist, abstract and realistic modes of translating the human figure and face, while also trying his hand at sculpture. Opening Lines educated, informed and proved that Alkazi was one of India’s greatest collectors because he knew his art. The only oil on canvas in the exhibition, a magnificent self-portrait, was the symbol of expression, elegance and emotional evocation. Observation and a finer sense of a deeper aesthetic is what defined Alkazi as a shrewd and precise artist. His lines were a lexicon of supple langur, his thoughts flowed in liquid rapture.
Shrewd collector, not a trophy hunter
As a collector, Alkazi was not a trophy hunter. He was a true blue-blooded collector. He knew the permutations of art as an investment and did not believe in the art of bragging. At best, he was an archivist / documentary who revered history, fed off literature, and relied on the wisdom that “the whole world is a scene in which men and women are just actors.”
His life, long after leaving the stage, was devoted to art and inner journeys; his integrity as a patron is what sets him apart from his peers. India has lost a distinguished and robust collector who built his empire in silence.