F.N. Souza: Remembrane of Things to Come

Untitled / F.N.Souza / chemical alterations on paper / 12 x 10 inches / 1970

Curated Walk at VOLTE-FACE: Souza’s Iconoclastic Vision
9th – 18th April 2010 at Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi.

The exhibition has been curated by Yashodhara Dalmia, there will be 200 paintings and drawings from the Dhoomimal Gallery Personal Collection on view.

Concept Note:

Francis Newton Souza’s art-works present themselves as visual documents that probe the intricacies of human behaviour, cartographies of religion and social ritual. His creations strategically disrupt conservative notions of aesthetic beauty and inherent good by presenting a reality governed by savage instincts and hedonism. By constructing a world that is intrinsically dysfunctional, coarse and malevolent; every subject appears as a tarnished entity and redemption is perennially denied.

F. N. Souza envisioned the future as an ugly and sterile dream. While using a grey palette in one of his early nude paintings he commented on it symbolizing impending doom that awaits built civilization and warned of nuclear catastrophe that will be caused by the destructive capacity of the human brain.i Hence, whilst conducting painstaking autopsies of the past, Souza was simultaneously foregrounding a possible future.

A comment that is often made in relation to Souza is that he was an artist ‘ahead of his time’. While this could be regarded as a pre-mature observation, it still tempts me to speculate – what if Souza were to respond to the present time – Would he still be painting at all? What might he say about the rise in natural calamities, religious fundamentalism, illegal wars and encounter killings?

The past decade has witnessed a profusion of writing on Souza in the mode of catalogue essays and monographs. Further, through solo exhibitions and record-breaking auction salesii the contemporary art world has ‘pedestalized’ him as an iconoclastic Indianiii artist and dynamic thinker of the 20th century. The credit is clearly long overdue; Souza was a great source of influence for his contemporaries in the Progressive Artists Group (PAG) and his works continue to impact the creative sensibilities of later generations. This exhibition is an opportunity to investigate his artistic oeuvre to greater depth through relevant contextualization.

The curated walk will survey the artist’s diverse sources of inspiration – which ranged from Expressionism, Cubism, ancient Indian sculpture to byzantine icons and cheap adult magazines. There will also be an attempt to study the exhibited works in connection with the larger historical canvas of Modernism and Post-Colonialism.

John Berger wrote: “After 40 years, I still have a vivid memory of Souza’s presence, as embodied in both his paintings and his person. If I had to sum up that presence, I would say it was that of a martyr. The confrontation within him between pain and voluptuousness, fury and calm, are comparable, I believe, to those often discovered in martyrdom.”iv Souza was never casual when broaching a subject – be it as monumental as global politics or as minute as the physiology of a flower. He was never a neutral presence and therefore his art is never quiet, it continues to indulge in an eternal conversation, consistently revising its own conclusions. Few decades ago, George Grosz wrote, ‘I wanted to protest against this world of mutual destruction…I saw heroism, but it seemed to be blind…what I saw more was misery, stupidity, hunger, cowardice and horror.’v Often, it is the artist who performs a simple yet tremendously essential task in society – that of removing a blindfold from one’s eyes.


i Kurtha, Aziz. Francis Newton Souza – Bridging Western and Indian Modern Art. Mapin Publishing & Grantha Corporation, 2006
ii In 2008, F. N. Souza’s painting Birth (1955) sold at a Christie’s auction for 1.27 million pounds
iii F. N. Souza spent more than 40 years of his life living outside India. While the nation’s art fraternity considers him to be a quintessentially Indian artist, he is also treated as an important British painter internationally.
iv Kurtha, Aziz. Francis Newton Souza – Bridging Western and Indian Modern Art. Mapin Publishing & Grantha Corporation, 2006
v Grosz, George & Hodges, Nora. George Grosz: An Autobiography.University of California Press, 1998


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