Syed Haider Raza, ‘Tam Soonya’, 1994, Christie's South Asian + Chinese

I have interpreted the universe in terms of five primary colours: black, white, red, blue and yellow. A total chromatic expression can be achieved by mixing primary colours with other secondary colours, such as greens, browns, and ochre. From there you can move to a great austerity of colours till you come to a supreme purity of form (The artist quoted in G. Sen, Bindu: Space and Time in Raza's Vision, 1997, pp. 127-128)

At the root of Raza's oeuvre lies a strong tie to nature and to the forests of Madhya Pradesh where he was born. Though his works from the 1980s and 90s are far from representational, the concept of nature remains pervasive and integral to their composition. Adopting a codified and symbolic language, the artist uses shapes and colors to represent different aspects of the natural world. According to art historian Geeti Sen, "Geometrical forms are used to map the universe. Here, the vocabulary of pure plastic form acquires an integral purpose: to relate the shape and rhythm of these forms to Nature." (G. Sen, Bindu: Space and Time in Raza's Vision, New Delhi, 1997, p. 118)

According to Raza, his work is the "...result of two parallel enquiries. Firstly, it is aimed at pure plastic order. Secondly, it concerns nature. Both have converged into a single point, the bindu, symbolizes the seed, bearing the potential for all life. It is also a visible form containing all the requisites of line, tone, colour, texture and space." ('Artists Today: East West Visual Encounter,' Marg Publications, Bombay, 1985, p. 18)

The realization of the innate force of the bindu has been an integral part of Raza's oeuvre since the late 1980s. The bindu, or the black point, can be variously interpreted as zero, drop, seed, or sperm, and it is the genesis of creation. The circle becomes less of a graphical component and more of a central point representing concentrated energy. It is the cosmic egg gestating within the womb of the unmanifested universe; ready for germination. The bindu is also the focal point for meditation and the principle around which Raza structures his canvases.

Painted in 1994, Tam Soonya is one of the larger renditions of this concept. The meaning of Tam Soonya is 'in your absence', it is the void or nothingness experienced in oneself. Because black contains all other colors, Raza notes, "It is the inspiration of the black bindu that lights up the colours, as if the light were springing from the darkness." (M. Imbert, Raza: An Introduction to his Painting, New Delhi, 2003, p. 54) For Raza, the color black is 'the mother color' from which all others are born and the bindu -- the cosmic egg or primordial seed of nothingness from which, in Hindu mythology, all Creation is born.

In 1950, Raza left India for Paris where he became an artist of the �cole de Paris, embracing European painting styles and techniques. During his sixty years in Paris his artistic and philosphical inquiry brought him back, time and time again, to India, its landscapes and traditions. Leaving India allowed Raza to fully comprehend and embrace his cultural heritage. From the 1990s onward, Raza comes full circle. With copmplete clarity his paintings represent his search for meaning and truth in life, exemplified by the bindu, while continuing to reflect the varied traditions -- Indian and European -- that have molded his oeuvre.

Signature: signed and dated 'RAZA '94' (lower center); further signed, inscribed, titled and dated 'RAZA / 1994 / 150 x 150 cm. / Acrylique sur toile / "TAM SOONYA"' (on the reverse)

Image rights: [Christie's](

About Syed Haider Raza

Sayed Haider Raza is one of the most prominent and groundbreaking Indian painters of his generation. During his training in France, Raza experimented with a variety of Modernist styles through landscape painting—first inspired by Expressionism, and later by geometric abstraction. In 1970, Raza began to paint purely geometric forms, particularly the circle and the dot, which he likened to the idea of the bindu. Though his style changed drastically over the course of his career, Raza’s works were all united in their emphasis on color, and their references to memory and mood. Raza was also responsible for founding the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) with Krishna Hawlaji Ara and Francis Newton Souza, with the purpose of turning away from the European realist styles taught in Indian art schools, and establishing a modernist vocabulary relevant to India.

Indian, 1922-2016, Madhya Pradesh, India, based in Paris, France

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