An Intriguing Group Show Explores the Ethnic Identities of India’s Diaspora Artists
The Meeting painted in 1984, captures a seminal period in Francis Newton Souza's postmodern practice, steeped in hierarchical theories and social reform. 1984 was the title of George Orwell's famous novel (written in 1948) in which a fascist totalitarian state imposed social hierarchies that insisted upon a total loss of liberty. Man became an ubiquitous and vacuous vessel of an all-pervading universalized dogma indoctrinated by the state. The feature film adaptation of the book would come out the same year as this painting and Souza's dehumanized, featureless figures with their urbane vacant eyes convening against a foreboding urban landscape perhaps alludes to Orwell's political masterpiece. This offers a stark contrast to Souza's landscapes of the 50s and 60s, which were so commonly devoid of human presence in the presence of nature.
Souza was also deeply influenced by an article published in the New York Times by Sanford Redmond in 1980, advertising his theory of "Nature in an Altered Perspective". Writing in 1984, the same year as the painting, Souza stated, "A.K. was in N.Y. We spent a couple of days together. He told me that people were saying, and that he thought so himself that during 1980 onwards until 1982 I was under an aberration. An aberration had taken over me, he said. I said, 'nonsense.' It was the year  the Theory had appeared, and of course it progressively turned me upside down and inside out." (F. N. Souza, Diary, 4 June 1984). The main tenet of Redmond's theory is that everything in Nature is hierarchical and as human beings have limited perception, because of this they see a distorted perspective of Nature. If in the past Souza expressed himself through paint in order to exist, now (after Redmond) he uses paint with an urgency to prove the scientific truth of Nature. The Meeting with its menacing, blackened sky juxtaposed against unsettling corniced buildings and distorted figures, shows Souza's veneration for this hierarchical doctrine and his fascination with social theory.
Signature: signed 'Souza 1984' (lower left); further signed, titled, dated and inscribed 'F. N. SOUZA / THE MEETING / 1984 / ACRYLIC WITH OIL FINNISH ON BOARD / 4' 2'' (on the reverse)
Formerly from The Estate of FN Souza
Francis Newton Souza was one of the first painters to achieve international recognition from a newly independent India, as well as a leading figure of its avant-garde movement. As a result of his time spent abroad, Souza’s style drew heavily from Expressionism and Art Brut. Often referred to as the “Indian Picasso”, Souza became known for his aggressive lines and thick application of color. He was fascinated with images of the sacred and the profane, and the boundary that divided them; his favorite subjects included the human figure, frequently depicted engaging in erotic acts and organized rituals of religion. Souza was also responsible for co-founding the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group in 1947, which sought to encourage artists to depict Indian subject matter with Western Modernist styles.