Group 1890 returns to the forefront with a historic exhibition in Delhi

Group 1890 returns to the forefront with a historic exhibition in Delhi

By BHUMIKA POPLI | | 10 September, 2016
Speechless City by Gulammohammed Sheikh.
A new show at the DAG Modern brings together works of 10 of the 12 artists who were part of a Sixties collective known as the Group 1890, a front that was set up in response, and opposition, to the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, writes Bhumika Popli.
The subject of the latest show at the DAG Modern is memory. The exhibition, titled India’s Indigenous Modernism, brings 10 of the 12 artists belonging to the storied “Group 1890” under the same rubric. This set of artists, and their works, were last seen on a common platform as far back as 1963. The current exhibition rehashes and re-presents that significant event, which can be traced back to the golden decade – the Sixties – of Indian modernism.

Group 1890 was formed, according to its manifesto, through a meeting which was held on 25-26 August, 1962 in Bhaavnagar, Gujarat. It derives its name simply from the venue of that meeting: 1890 was the number of the house that belonged to Jyoti and Jayant Pandya, who hosted the momentous meeting.

Influential on many fronts to other emerging artists, the group comprised some of the founding fathers of Indian modernism. Its members included Gulammohammed Sheikh, Jeram Patel, Himmat Shah, Jyoti Bhatt, Ambadas, Eric Bowen, Raghav Kaneria, Reddappa Naidu and Rajesh Mehra. Ten artists from this collective are part of the present show. The two who are missing are S.G. Nigam and Balkrishna Patel – since their works are not available in the public domain, they couldn’t be acquired by the gallery.

DAG Modern has also launched an accompanying book with this exhibition. It vividly celebrates the group’s indigenous art, achievements, vibrancy and their desire for push at the limits of creative discourse in India.

Untiitled by Jeram Patel.

“One can say that this is the second exhibition of the group. The first was held in 1963 which was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru,” says Kishore Singh, head of exhibitions and publications, DAG Modern. “We have been planning this exhibition for over a year now and wanted to bring a commemorative retrospective which celebrates their work. For us, it was interesting to understand the reasons and motivations which led to the formation of Group 1890.”

The artists in this group began with conducting lengthy discussion with their fellows about the situation of Indian indigenous art of their time. This debate went on for over two years, and the final meeting, in August 1962, was its direct result. The Group 1890 was launched after the artists came to a common understanding regarding the vitiating influences which they believed were hindering the progress of modern art in the country.

“The group did not believe in any particular ideology or style and it didn’t proclaim any set principles of art-making. It focused primarily on what kind of direction the art needs now.” says Shruti Parthasarthy, executive editor, publications, DAG Modern.

India’s Indigenous Modernism, unveils, for the lay viewer, the radical aesthetic of Group 1890. The ideas and the works that emerged from this collective set a benchmark for many upcoming artists.

Among the works featured in this show, the one by Jeram Patel stands out. In an untitled work, where the artist has used blowtorch and enamel paint on wood – a unique expressive technique. “By using blowtorch and carving on wood, Jeram Patel had opened a new avenue for emerging artists. He brought a certain liberty in artists’ mind that something like this is also achievable,” says Shruti. His practice involved burning the sheets of plywood, stuck together with acetylene torch, sticking metal sheets on it, hammering down nails and puncturing the surface with a network of small holes. For the aforementioned piece, Patel worked with a blowtorch, creating shallow reliefs on wood.

Influential on many fronts to other emerging artists, the group comprised some of the founding fathers of Indian modernism. Ten artists from this collective are part of the present show. 

The internationally renowned artist and a member of the group, Gulammohammed Sheikh’s Speechless City, among his other works, is also displayed at the exhibition. The work is influenced by Indian political scenario. Gulammohammed says, “I made this painting in 1975 to highlight the situation during the time of Emergency, laid by Indira Gandhi.”

The exhibition also includes works by veteran artist Jyoti Bhatt, who fused elements of pop art with traditional Indian folk designs. Many Faces of a Face, a mixed-media piece by Bhatt was composed in the year 2001. Here, he has used the figure of the peacock from Indian symbols and presented it as a digital print: the image of the peacock is fixed upon a human face. He has created a rhythmic pattern by the repetition of the image. There is also a narrative in the reproduced image, which he uses purely as a motif. Here he uses both cool and warm colours.

Many Faces of a Face by Jyoti Bhatt.

Group 1890 was not as celebrated as the Progressives. The former had to suffer great neglect at times. According to art critic and writer Prayag Shukla, “The Progressives either lived in big metros or were promoted by them while the Group 1890 artists came from small places and so were never heralded the way Progressives were. The Progressives hogged all the conversations and were written about as if modern art revolved only around them. ”

The group even went into a virtual oblivion after a while. As Shukla writes in the exhibition catalogue, “It mustn’t be thought that the group disintegrated. It did, in the sense it didn’t stay together, but the narrative of them stayed together. One factor that is clear to me is that you can’t break away from your roots. ”

The exhibition will remain on view till mid-December and can also be seen online at


Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.