Published in Third Text, 3:8-9, 1989, pp.25-64

Francis Newton Souza[1] was born in April 1924, in Portuguese Goa, in a Roman Catholic family of Konkan origin. The father, Joseph Newton, died three months after his son's birth, leaving his young wife, Lily Mary, practically destitute. In the following year, Souza's only sister died. Heaped with debts, his mother decided to disguise herself and escape to Bombay with her little son. There Souza broke into smallpox and was sent back to Goa to be looked after by the grandmother. He stayed on with her for a couple of years before he returned to live in Bombay with his mother who had by now set herself up as a dress-maker. Being exceptionally clever in the art of needlework, she managed slowly to establish what was called the 'Institute of Needle Craft and Domestic Science.' From this she earned enough to see her son through school and college. Souza's father, who had been a teacher of English, was a good and sober man, a "chronic teetotaller" in reaction to his own father who, though the principal of a village school, was known to be a drunkard, as was his wife, Souza's grandmother. Souza's relationship to his father is posthumous, therefore entirely imaginary. "My father died when I was born, like a beetle that dies having laid an egg."[2] But quite as easily the beetle is metamorphosed into the mythical figure of Laius: "I've always had a curious feeling of an ancient guilt that I had inadvertently killed my father because he died soon after my birth."[3] Evidently Souza fancies the image of Oedipus shot through as it is with tragic irony. The irony is closer to his taste, because unlike the Greek hero he refers to himself as the creature who crawled out of a dung heap like a "blooming maggot" and became a genius. As for the tragic part of it, he offers to share that with all the rest of humanity, not least Jesus Christ.

Towards his mother, who he says was like the mother of Oedipus - Spartan in shape, somewhat enigmatic and very sophisticated - his relationship was apparently loving, though he claims that she would have preferred him to die rather than her lovely daughter because he was such a "rickety child, with a running nose-and running ears, and scared of every adult and every other child."[4] She held fast to him nevertheless, praying to God that He should spare her boy from the dreadful attack of smallpox. She even promised that it he survived, she would try to make him a Jesuit priest so that he might serve his Saviour. Her boy escaped death and she added Francis to his name in thanksgiving to Goa's patron saint, St. Francis Xavier. The bit about the Jesuit priest was not however fulfilled. Souza, for his part, preferred an apprenticeship to the Devil bringing his mother into the ambit of his ogling eye. "I used to watch her bath herself through a hole I'd bored in the door... .I drew her on the walls and prudes thought I was rude. I can't see why, because so far as I can recollect I have even painted murals on the walls of her womb."[5]

For all the later devilry, Souza had once believed himself to be a devout little Christian boy and knelt and prayed for hours, rapt not so much in his faith as in the fantasies the Church inspired.

The Roman Catholic Church had a tremendous influence over me, not its dogmas but its grand architecture and the splendour of its services. The priest dressed in richly embroidered vestments....The wooden saints painted with gold and bright colours staring vacantly out of their niches. The smell of incense. And the enormous crucifix with the impaled image of a Man supposed to be the Son of God, scourged and dripping with matted hair tangled in plaited thorns.[6]

These images stayed with him. Christ on the Cross, His trials re-lived by the saints and martyrs about whom his grandmother would tell him spine chilling stories. The Church rituals converged upon the images of torture and his Catholic childhood gave him the leitmotiv of his imagination.

Goa was a beautiful country with its white-washed churches set in wheat fields and palm trees, interwoven with red roads curving over the low-lying hills. There you glimpsed the blue sea through rich, green, tropical foliage and you lived, poor as you might be, in little houses with painted tiles. The Bombay where Souza grew up was a squalid substitute and recalling it with his inimitable flair, he wrote:

Bombay with its rattling trams, omnibuses, hacks, railways, its forests of telegraph poles and tangles of telephone wires, its flutter of newspapers, its haggling coolies, its numberless dirty restaurants run by Iranis, its blustering officials and stupid policemen, its millions of clerks working dock-like in fixed routines, its schools that turn out clerks in a mechanical, Macaulian educational system, its bania hoarders, its ghatine women carrying a million tiffins to the clerks at their offices during lunch hour, its lepers and beggars, its panwallas and red betel expectorations on the streets and walls, its stinking urinals and filthy gullies, its sickening venereal diseased brothels, its corrupted municipality, its Hindu Colony and Muslim Colony and Parsi Colony, its bug ridden Goan residential clubs, its reeking, mutilating and fatal hospitals, its machines, rackets babbitts, pinions, cogs, pile drivers, dwangs, farads and din.[7]

With an imagination so vivid as Souza's the city begins to appear like some predatory beast ticking with a feverish life, a nasty organism active in every little cell. And one can picture him, through his own words, forming within it, being spun out as it were, to emerge as a virulent young man, a sort of black David, ready to catapult the giant with his self-devised weapons.

In Bombay Souza went to school to receive his quota of the Macaulian education intended, as he says, to turn Indians into respectable toadies. He even went to a Jesuit school - St. Xavier's High School - in keeping with the mother's promise to the Saint. But the Jesuit fathers did not appreciate their truant ward nor his pornographic drawings on the walls of the school lavatories and he was expelled after two years.

He was sixteen now and freed from the destiny of priesthood, he decided to become an artist. All he knew at the time was that he could draw, and not only pornography. The pictorial stimulus his community offered him was the oleograph prints - holy pictures imported from Italy featuring Jesus as a blond figure with tear-drop eyes, wearing a flowing garment like a nightie and disappearing into the clouds. His relatives had told him that Michelangelo and Raphael were stalwart archangels; they had also warned him that Indian sculpture was an array of idols worshipped by the vulgar-minded heathen.

He joined the Jamshetjee Jeejebhoy School of Art in 1940. The school boasted a big name on account ofitsEnglishprincipalsclaimingaffiliation with the Royal Academy of Great Britain. The Royal Academy, as we know, was no great marvel, nor were the British art schools. Their colonial versions in India were downright pathetic. The curriculum consisted of drawing from plaster casts of antiques; portrait painting; studies from the nude model; and occasional field trips to encourage students to paint genre pictures featuring fisher-women and the like. By this time they had also introduced an option for what was called 'Indian style' painting in the tradition of Santiniketan.

The best among the native artists, trained in 'Western style' painting, succeeded in having their work exhibited at the exhibitions of the Bombay Art Society, if they were not crowded out, that is, by the water colours of the English memsahibs who, in the true tradition of the English gentry, loved to dabble in paints. Souza was the prize student of the art school. He had mastery over the academic rules he was taught and by the same token he could have been a prize painter of Bombay upper class society. His status as a Christian would very probably have been an asset with both the English and the Indian bourgeoisie that patronized art. However, he rejected his education, educated himself through all the books and reproductions and actual works of art that he would find access to. And rather than pawning his inherited religion to win favours from the rulers he turned upon them with a rage shared with the rest of his impoverished countrymen. He was a confirmed rebel from his adolescence. During his college days he became a patriot and got himself expelled on that combined charge. The occasion was a students' demonstration against the anti-national practices of the English principal.

His own loyalty to the Indian cause was not, however, without the characteristic element of satire. That we won our freedom, he holds, is because of a series of negative traits subtly manoeuvred by a master-mind.

That man was Mahatma Gandhi....Resist not evil, he told them, quietly quoting a dictum of Christ. The enemy who was by the way Christian was all the more baffled. It is a long history of tension between a great active force and a great passive force, the like of which never occurred before in the history of the world. The Western Christian world has never understood this truly oriental dictum of Christ. It voluntarily resorts to terrifying might against whatever it considers evil and at times even to mean spite. But Gandhiji did not budge. He was in no hurry to retaliate even with the peaceful weapon of his great concept. He had an astonishing certitude and precision of timing his move in a stagnant land where time is taken in terms of eternity and eternal rebirths from maggots to Nirvana. But by the time the ultimatum or what is called the political crisis came, the Mahatma had already converted our national paralysis into an army of non-violence. We won the battle.[8]

Souza's process of politicization led him quickly to Marxism, and soon after he had been expelled from the art school, he joined the Communist Party of India. Being by temperament a fighter every pang of humiliation he felt as an individual or as a 'native' roused him to retaliation and attack. He converted this fighting spirit into revolutionary politics. The Party welcomed him on the popular front, and his art of the period did indeed merit enthusiasm from the comrades. He devised his figures according to class-types, showed them in their environment, labelled them with appropriate titles. He depicted the plight of the poor (Goan peasants, Bombay proletariat); he exposed the villains (capitalists in particular, the bourgeoisie in general). He painted, moreover, in an idiom belonging broadly to the Social Realist category and was more than willing, with the help of the Party organization, to show his paintings in the working class colonies of Bombay. He was hailed in the People's Age, the Party paper, as a patriot and a revolutionary.

Souza's commitment to the Party was, however, quite short-lived. The reasons he gives for abandoning communism - and he had already opted out before he left India in 1949 - are not very impressive and it is not unlikely that they were contrived much later. Notwithstanding his later statements about the erroneousness of Marxist economics, sociology, psychology, etc., the only convincing reason for his abandoning communism appears to be that he was personally unwilling to accept the constraints which the Party might exercise on him. This has probably as much to do with his restive individuality as his being an artist. The artist's instinctive abhorrence of a strait-jacket ideology is not in itself deplorable. But that an artist of the intelligence of Souza should reduce Marxist aesthetics to what some "cretin critics" from the Soviet Union said about modern art is unfortunate. The irrelevance of official criticism from the Soviet Union is more than apparent on reading any of the great Marxist thinkers who have reckoned with the complexity of the creative imagination, and Souza, by no means given to transcendental aesthetics, reduces the whole problem to simplistic terms only at his own cost.

The important thing for an artist is not to belong to a Party but if he has voluntarily chosen to portray human beings he must be able to develop a perspective on them. And an ideology that extends the awareness of man's behavior and destiny cannot therefore be easily derided. I shall discuss later that it is not Souza's shifting angles but his frequent caprice, and his desperate and somewhat unscrupulous expediency which defeat his own aims as an artist.

In 1947, Souza initiated the Progressive Artists' Group (PAG). By the time the Group became operative, he had already made a name for himself, having dashed off - after his expulsion from the art school -several hundred paintings. He had exhibited them, sold them, and set up a minor conflagration, both with his politics and his images.

Apart from Souza, there were five other members of the Group. There was Raza who was not only well known, but a much envied and emulated landscape painter in Bombay - irresistibly charming as a person, sophisticated in his technique, lyrical in sensibility. In contrast to Raza, Ara was quite an unsophisticated but impetuous and vital person whose work Souza had found stunning because of its direct, intuitive modernism. In 1948, Husain's one painting Potters had been put up in the annual art exhibition of the Bombay Art Society and it jumped out from the usual trash because of its vitality. This tall, lanky, bearded Muslim was working away quietly, diffidently, in a virtual ghetto, unfamiliar with the upcoming artists' milieu in Bombay. Souza tracked him down to ask him to join the Group. Gade and Bakre were brought into the Group by Raza and Ara respectively and they decided to limit the number tosixso asnot to endup with toomuch of a stylistic scramble.

It is an interesting fact, though rather quickly forgotten, that when Souza initiated the Progressive Artists' Group, he still had it in mind to give that Group a broad ideological orientation. In its first manifesto Souza, speaking on behalf of the Group, wrote that their intention was to bring about "a closer understanding and contact between different sections of the artists' community and the people...."[9] Because of Souza's continuing relations with the CPI, the first meetings of the Group were held at the premises of the Party office, or at the office of the 'Friends of the Soviet Union.' Moreover, the title 'Progressive' associated them with the Progressive Writers' Movement which was started by communist writers and fellow-travellers in the thirties.

However, in the catalogue of the Group's exhibition held in July 1949, Souza had reformulated, on behalf of the Group, the limits of their intention.

I do not quite understand now, why we still call our Group 'Progressive.' We have changed all the chauvinist ideas and the Leftist fanaticism which we had incorporated in our manifesto at the inception of the Group....We found this in the course of working an impossibility...the gulf between the so-called people and the artists cannot be bridged. Today we paint with absolute freedom for contents and techniques, almost anarchic; save that we are governed by one or two sound elemental and eternal laws, of aesthetic order, plastic co-ordination and colour composition.[10]

On the political question, there could have been no agreement among the Group members. Raza had leftist sympathies but his work was altogether unideological; Husain painted his ghetto environment with a great deal of involvement, but he was exceedingly wary of politics. It is no wonder that they arrived at the most obvious common denominator between them: aesthetic order, plastic coordination, and colour composition. Fortunately, it was not, though with that sort of trite terminology it might easily have been, the lowest common denominator.

Souza believed and he still believes that before he and his colleagues came along, there was no serious art in India, and no professional artists; that all those who preceded them deserved, in his own words, "a lynching" - especially the Bombay Art Society and the Bengal School artists, and presumably individuals such as Binode Behari Mukherjee, Ram Kinkar, Amrita Sher-Gil, George Keyt, Jamini Roy, Rabindranath Tagore. About some of them he knows nothing at all and in his haste and ignorance lumps them all together. He claims, moreover, that "our art has evolved over the years of its own volition. Out of our own balls and brains. "[11] The fact is that while the vitality came from these sources, the volition for these younger artists came undoubtedly from the West. Hence the direction and trajectory of their respective style. They were the first among the modern artists in India, it is true, but it is equally true that the concept of modernity was accepted by them at the simplest and most obvious level and the dilemma of their own identity subsumed within it without much question.

That the quest for identity in terms of contemporary India was arduous is quite apparent. The choice of several of these artists to go away to Europe, one after another, is a negative or reverse proof of that. At the end of 1949, Souza had packed his bags and left for London. Within a year Raza and Bakre left for Paris. Padamsee, who had been associated with the activities of the Group (though being still a student, he was not a member), left for Paris at the same time as Raza, followed after a few years by another associate, Tyeb Mehta. Krishen Khanna and Gaitonde, two more associates, carried on along with Husain, Ara and Gade for another couple of years but the excitement had to a large extend died down, the 'mafia' gang, as Souza likes to call the Group, had been broken and each member took his share of the impetus and went his own way.

Because Souza had hatched the whole thing and boosted it, providing the manifesto, the credo, the publicity and blurbs; and because he was the first among his colleagues to quit, he carries the most furious nostalgia for the Group and a decidedly exaggerated estimation of its achievements. This exaggeration fits in, moreover, with his subsequent role. For it is he, among all the Indian artists living abroad, who adopted in true style, the role of the angry expatriate and added the appropriate myths to his emigration. He claims that he was driven out of his country for lack of appreciation. For the sake of effect, he adds he was driven out by the Indian police. As a matter of fact, just before he left, his paintings were removed from an exhibition on charges of obscenity and his house was searched by the police, presumably for pornographic pictures. This gives him the excuse for holding the scene he left behind in sheer contempt, while at the same time, he is eager, in the boastful manner of a colonial expatriate, to impress the locals with his singular victories in the big, bad West.

In London it was not easy going by any means. His wife Maria, a Goan girl, whom he had married at the time of his first show, supported him by working at odd jobs. He earned some money by occasional journalism, and there were intermittent commissions, notably those arranged by Krishna Menon who was then Indian High Commissioner to Britain. Menon had him do a series of large murals in the Indian Students' Bureau in London (the building, unfortunately, has since been demolished) and arranged an exhibition of his work at India House. During the early fifties he hardly sold any painting in London or in Paris, where he showed together with Raza and Padamsee.

By 1954 livelihood prospects looked so bad that he wondered whether he should return to India which, being a poor man's land, might be more hospitable to an impoverished artist. Just at that time a break in his career and he did not return. A Paris dealer offered him a one-man show in Paris; he made the acquaintance of Stephen Spender and through him of some influential people in London. He was shown in a group exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, and offered a one-man show at the newly opened Gallery One. This exhibition in 1955 overlapped with the publication of his autobiographical piece, "Nirvana of a Maggot" in Encounter (edited by Stephen Spender). Almost overnight Souza had shot into fame.

It is interesting that John Berger, at the time one of the few Marxist art critics writing in English, was among the first to recognize Souza's genius. In his review of the exhibition he made a tentative interpretation of Souza's work on the basis of his being an Indian - a Goan Catholic to be precise - and admitted his baffled admiration at the ease withwhichhe"straddles manytraditions butserves none."[12] The first success was followed by an uninterrupted series of exhibitions and sales, reviews and interviews. He got good prices; well-known critics like Andrew Forge, Edward Mullins, and George Butcher wrote for him in the best papers which included the London Times, The Guardian, New Statesman, and Studio International.

Souza was the first Indian artist to become something of a sensation in the West. For that matter, even among his Western contemporaries he stood pretty high on the ladder of success, and it goes without saying that he deserved it. Place him for a moment beside two figurative Expressionists like Graham Sutherland in England and Bernard Buffet in France, the two painters with whom he invites obvious comparison, and one will realize how much more sharply Souza impresses himself on one, using that term literally to mean a mark left on the recipient by the force of pressure.

It should be noted however that there were certain factors like his choice to live in London rather than in Paris and his stunning articulateness which contributed to his success. Paris, for all the dreams it aroused in the hearts of artists, had by then become so commercialized that the terms of success there were quite forbidding. Moreover, in the shadow of the great artists - the modern masters of early twentieth century - the art scene had acquired a conceit and a nasty prejudice in matters of taste.

Compared to their American contemporaries, French Abstract Expressionists were still interested in providing pleasure to conventional aesthetic taste. Even a truly hedonistic attitude - and the materialism of nineteenth century French art had evolved under the effect of political pessimism into a hedonism - requires that pleasure be discovered in the way of Matisse and Bonnard, and not simply provided all wrapped up for sale. Souza in any case did not provide any sort of pleasure, and pleasure he portrayed in his erotic images was savage rather than delectable. In Paris, Souza's images would have been regarded as vulgar perhaps and decidedly exaggerated. After all Picasso himself had been so greatly streamlined by his Parisian followers and apart from Dubuffet there was little in the way of contemporary figurative painting in the School of Paris to lend support to Souza.

Not that England is the chosen place for the sort of rabid artist Souza presented himself as. The English in their own way are awfully civilized. But being more diffident - they have had a singularly weak tradition so far as painting goes - and quite unfashionable, they were perhaps more willing to step back when someone dared to speak; to concede the point, especially if it was hollored out. At any rate, in that pale, polite, fog-filled environment Souza shone out, bold and dark and menacing, a veritable Dracula whom, incidentally, he liked to impersonate in his own photographs. That he had as an immediate contemporary, a painter so outstanding as Francis Bacon, England's one really significant post-War painter, is fortunate because in his company, Souza could be seen as part of a new English tradition of the grotesque.

The other factor that contributed to his tremendous success was his articulateness. He often wrote the introduction to his own catalogue plus occasional articles and essays. In all of these he presented himself as the descendant of the Devil and the Dadaists, an enfant terrible, all the more dangerous because he belonged to the oppressed races. He managed in his writing to convert his racial malediction into angry genius.

Apart from his own self, his words spared no one. The bourgeois gentleman from London's West End, the American tycoon, the Pope in Rome and God in heaven, all came in for equal drubbing. And not least, the rest of the members of his own race - the Indians on whom he always heaped lavish scorn. "Compared to me," he wrote in one of his catalogues, "my compatriots are asses! I detest them all. I didn't say it, Cezanne did!" [13]

But if it were merely a matter of clever slander his words would have petered out. The articles collected in a slim volume, Words & Lines, prove Souza to be a brilliant writer. And perhaps precisely because he writes to supplement his paintings his words are so trenchant. They are words meant to gorge out the illusions and the residual truths that he cannot tackle as a painter and which would choke him with their bitterness and bile if he were not to put them down.

In his writing he veers between feelings of revenge and a fearful ardour at having to be an artist; of regret and of sheer bravado at having to be human. Appropriately some of his favourite authors are Nietzsche, Baudelaire, James Joyce, Bernard Shaw, Henry Miller, and Samuel Beckett, He writes autobiographically and without a hint of modesty. His writings, as David Sylvester wrote, "lay bare his heart, his stomach, his sex, with self-conscious, not innocent, absence of shame." [14] And about writing like this, without shame, he himself says: "One who has the audacity to write about himself must be a pathetic character indeed. And how sad is human weakness - how very sad, how beautiful." [15]

In cumulative effect, all his words pertain to the struggle for survival. Everything is explained in terms of the biological evolution of life: "I believe God is the First Cause in a serial Universe. I believe Marxism is wrong, because greed is the force behind evolution, and therefore, whoever is in charge of distributing the 'surplus value' will divert it." [16] From Darwin's ape to Nietzsche's superman, everything is put down in terms of self-aggrandizement and Souza himself makes wild gesticulations to assert how and why he has survived in the universal power struggle.

As an artist his successful survival dates back to 1956 when a wealthy American, Harold Kovner, after seeing some of his paintings in a Paris gallery, made him a carte blanche offer that if every month Souza parcelled him a few paintings he would in return send him more than enough money to survive. This fantastic arrangement lasted four years; Kovner acquired 200 Souza's and Souza for his part thrived as never before, freed for the first time in his life from financial worries.

But with prosperity, he found himself heading towards a personal crisis. He began to drink heavily, everyday and then practically every hour. A virtual alcoholic, he began losing grip over his superb draughtsmanship and began losing his aptitude for life. In 1960, the worst year of his alcoholism, he went to Italy on an Italian government scholarship and from there came to India for his first visit since his departure in 1949. Bombay, Goa, India as a whole, bored him. He felt disillusioned, bitter, unable to cope with new situations and he hurried back to London and admitted himselfintoaclinic to curehimself of alcoholism.In three weeks he had mastered his weakness and ever since he has not touched alcohol. This demon, at any rate, turns his stomach.

Not that he is one for shunning the demonic powers. The woman, whom apparently he regards such a power, features very prominently in his talk, in his writing,, and not least, in his images. Whether he is recounting his escapades with the voluptuous servant girls from Goa or his marital life, the woman features as a bitch and a whore and a" sinister promise; very occasionally as a tender girl and sometimes as a mother. He himself has several children. He has a daughter from his first wife Maria, three daughters from Iisolette Kristian with whom he lived for several years and one son from Barbara Zinkat, whom he married in 1965 and with whom he now lives [17] in New York.

Souza's success story continues through the 1960s. In 1961 he had a momentous exhibition at Gallery One and since then he has shown all over the world: France, Japan, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Brazil, Argentina, USA, Canada. He has had several retrospective shows, and been represented in important group shows based on themes as divergent as religious and erotic art. He has been ' bought by museums - from Haifa, Israel, to Melbourne, Australia and also the Tate Gallery, London. In 1962 a London publisher brought out a book on him with a text by the English art critic Edward Mullins.[18]

In 1967 he migrated to the USA and settled in New York. Now he extols the affluent society and cogitates on the Bhagavad Gita. With his work however he has made nowhere near the same impact on the New York scene as he did in London. For his part he says with casual disdain, "I don't dig the 'new' stuff promoted by the faggot museum coterie for their fruits."[19] Except that his present work does not, unfortunately, stand up as a challenge to the new stuff. Not even the erotica in which he seems to be specializing, presumably to counter the all-round aesthetic effetism with the virility of his imagination. Or is it to combat the sense of loneliness that seems to be creeping up, a sense of alienation, which is perhaps nowhere as acute as in New York? Perhaps it is time for Souza to return to India where his gestures, even if they have lost some of their vigour, might reverberate as echoes of his earlier self and strike home. Perhaps. It is a question we should consider in the perspective of his life's work.


Souza's work in the last three decades can be divided into major themes, most of which recur with greater or lesser emphasis throughout his career. What gives his output a momentous appearance is the heroism of style and posture he has managed to maintain. The heroism accompanies his role as an antagonist.

The first version of his antagonism took on a directly political aspect and although it had but a brief spell, it provides a fitting preamble for his subsequent development. We have noted before that soon after his expulsion from the art school, Souza had joined the Communist Party. This affected the content of his work for a period of about two years and the titles of his paintings during this period leave no doubt as to the artist's ideology: After work the whole day in the fields, we have no rice to eat; Criminals and the judge made of the same stuff; Enemies of the people; Proletariat of Goa; and so on. The style adopted belonged to the broad category of Social Realism. It would be hard to find marks of originality in this work, but it is possible to see the source of that energy which was to take on such a stormy colour in the following years. By the time he founded the Progressive Artists' Group in 1947, Souza had abandoned the Communist Party and was in the process of abandoning his Social Realism. The deliberately rough and sumptuous handling of paint suggests that Souza was already well familiar with European Expressionism and his later work bears this out quite plainly, the major formative influence in his development being Rouault, Soutine, and Picasso. Keeping in mind his role of rebel and his Expressionist idiom - both of which are, as we shall see, closely connected - we might proceed to examine his work in terms of what we have referred to as his major themes.

His Catholic background gives Souza his most enduring themes from the Old and the New Testaments. Given his background, it seems inevitable that Rouault should have provided immediate stimulus to Souza, Rouault being the one great artist of the twentieth century to have been obsessed by the life and legend of Christ. Some of the things that characterized Rouault's work were his manner of handling pigment; his line-bound figures; frontal, icon like compositions. The thickly caked surface Rouault developed at the same time subdued as it enriched the colour; but what is more important, it gave the image an extraordinary tactile quality: the face or figure was virtually sculpted out of the thick, porous layers of paint. This Souza borrowed, also the frontal formalization of the figure; its definition in heavy black line; and its placement in a strict spatial enclosure.

Souza's intentions and his emotional attitudes were always however quite antithetical to Rouault's. Rouault once said that realizing the extent of suffering in the world he had found himself seized to the depths of his entrails by an unmeasurable pity and, making suffering his credo, had decided to hold fast to the working class people among whom he was born, and whom he equated with he Son of God. That is why, whether he painted prostitutes, clowns, or Christ Himself, he painted them with an utter consistency of feeling: the feeling of compassion.

Souza, on the other hand, singularly lacks or rejects the quality of compassion and though there are spurts of an aggressive sort of pity, the spiritual experience is injected with a deadly rancour. Suffering is ignoble, he proposes in his images, and there is no trace of sublimity in the face of those whom he shows to be suffering.

In this context his relationship to Christ becomes crucial because in Christ is incarnated the suffering of man on earth. Souza's susceptibility to Him is unmistakable: "My beginnings were small and secret and growth was by contact with Christ,"[20] he says himself. But in the adult consciousness the equation demanded with Him is terrifying. He is the Son of God, at the same time as He is suffering human being. That paradox forces His divine image to assume a posture of accusation and turns devotion into a sense of guilt. Christianity, in consequence, is a religion of extreme and unrelieved anguish, the ultimate culmination of which is expressed by Nietzsche who argues that the virtue which Jesus is shown to posses in unnatural proportions, the virtue of humility, is a weapon of the weak, a menacing weapon used in sheer hatred against the strong. It isNietzsche'srageagainst themorbid shame spread by theChristians on the face of this earth, against the hypocrisy of those who aspire to power by scorning power that Souza inherits and makes the life-long inspiration of his work.

After Nietzsche if religion has survived in this century it has survived as a lost cause, riddled with doubt and abuse. Souza as an heir of Nietzsche is distinctly contemporary in his attitude to religion. Reflecting the spirit of atheistic existentialism he once wrote: "...and you there on the top in a single furnished room, smoking, standing at the window, expressionless city-man that you are, your suffering is far more complex than the obviously simple tortured expression of one crowned with thorns, and impaled with nails."[21]

It is not surprising, therefore, that in his famous Crucifixion (1959) he turns Christ into a caricature, an effigy made of crooked pieces of thorny wood and a face like a primitive mask, all whiskers and teeth. His figure is flanked by two men in patched shirts of red and green; ragged companions of a ragged soul that invites neither pity nor fear. He has painted many versions of Christ, not all of them so bitterly contemptuous and the famous painting of the Deposition (1964) is not without a tragic content. Characteristically, however, Souza treats even tragedy in his own way, permitting no element of grace to enter the horrifying drama of Christ's death.

There is as we have seen a spiritual hiatus that separates Souza from Rouault, the one religious Expressionist of our time. We should, therefore, consider alongside, Souza's other pictorial antecedent: Romanesque art. This is a phase of Christian art where the tortuous aspects of religion become as evident in plastic expression as the sublime, where the two aspects fuse to create a sense of agonizing spirituality that retains an inexorable hold on one's imagination.

As a child Souza's imagination was fed on the church imagery of Portuguese Goa. Medievalism had as protracted a life in Portugal as in Spain and the spirit of it was transmitted through the word and image to their respective colonies. Even when Spain and Portugal did imbibe the values of humanism that characterize Italian art of the Renaissance, their art bore the marks of an earlier, emotionally exaggerated faith, and the accompanying 'Realism' bore a characteristically fervid aspect. So far as art went, the medieval spirit seems to have fused directly with the Baroque, in these regions, and produced an imagery at once stark and dramatic, sublime and at the same time selfconsciously expressive. The colonial art of the two imperial powers reflected similar traits, albeit in cruder and more fantastic ways. For in the colonized cultures there were other factors at work, distorting an inherently expressive imagery. The colonies were established as much through the sword of the conquistador as with the Word of Christ and political subjugation finding its equivalents in local myths was bound to produce an art with an horrific aspect. Moreover, the native craftsmen, either heathen or newly converted to Christianity, tended to add their own folk and popular idiom to the given image. And a hybrid image is usually uncanny, often grotesque.

We know that the modern Mexican artists were forcibly struck by the savagery of their church imagery. The result of an intermingling of Indian and Spanish idioms. Souza likewise carried the entire pageant of saints and martyrs of the Goan churches in his head, coated no doubt with that peculiar, rancid flavour which an image or a symbol secretes when it has been plucked from its native soil and planted abroad. Such an image and the idea it embodies lives on through ritual, and these rituals, fabulously imposing as they might be, produce a kind of hysterical allegiance, compensating for the absence of steady commitment found in a deep-rooted religious tradition. Under such circumstances, whatever the actual countenance of the carved or painted image offered by the Church to the devout, it is likely to be substantially transfigured according to the convert's fantasy. If it happens to be a child like Souza, lonely, secretive and given to wild hallucinations, the transfigurations can be weird and diabolical.

Whether Souza's obsessive and violent relationship with the Christ image comes via the sort of art which he assimilated as a child; or whether he adopted a form resembling the one with which he was visually familiar at a stage when his attitude to Christianity had fully developed, is, of course, hard to say. But it seems in retrospect quite inevitable that it is the medieval, rather than the Renaissance image of Christ that he should have adopted. Specifically, it is the Spanish Romanesque or Catalan fresco paintings that gave him his style.

He acknowledges that his visit to the Catalonian Museum in Barcelona was revelatory. The hieratic figures in Catalonian frescoes with their wide-eyed hypnotic gaze and ritualistic gestures are delineated with a sharp, precise line and enfolded in elaborately embroidered, richly coloured garments. Christ is usually shown surrounded by the symbols of the Evangelists; there are instances from the lives of saints and martyrs; a portrayal of allegories from the Old Testament. Hell is frequently depicted, replete with its demons and monsters, and the vision of the Apocalypse features often. Souza's painting of 1953-54 show that he adopted not only that peculiar transfixed aspect of the medieval image but specific details such as the manner of delineating the facial features and modelling the limbs with a faint shadow on the inside of a distinct black outline

And yet the hieratic forms are treated ironically, turned inside-out in a manner startling to say the least and quite often sinister. An irony based on a deepseated suspicion of authority becomes the marked characteristic of his subsequent work and he uses the transfixed, frontal aspect of the figure to convey a feeling of petrification associated with authority.

The one continuing theme Souza explores in the coming years, is the theme of hypocrisy and the Church, in so far as it symbolizes absolute authority and camouflages with subtle cunning the hypocrisies of the elite, has remained one of the most important subjects of his paintings. He has featured the bourgeois, it is true, and specifically the rapacious capitalist, but the fixation with the Church is more enduring. This has to do with the fact already mentioned: the Church is a power -to which he was subject as a child even before he gained full self-consciousness. It has also to do with the fact that visually the Church provides a fabulous setting. For a artist, figures of authority dressed up in gorgeous robes are more engaging than those one meets every day in suit-and-tie. The recurring portraits of priests, prophets, cardinals, and Popes are therefore to be takenliterally forwhatthey are butalso symbolically asrepresentatives of institutions and authority, only more treacherous in that they claim divine sanction. That is to say, the villains of the Catholic Church he represents are both real and allegorical. It is this double connotation of fact and symbol and his interlocked feelings of secret fascination and objective disgust which make Souza's handling of religious figures so unique.

The other major theme of his oeuvre is the woman. The aggressive sensuality in the handling of the female figure corresponds in the early years to his frankly borrowed Expressionist idiom and there is obvious relationship of these women to Rouault's early (pre-1920) paintings of aging prostitutes and charwomen of the Paris slums. The inspiration for the early figures comes simultaneously from Indian.sculpture of Mathura and Khajuraho. The Three Girls (1949) are the voluptuous, big-breasted Yaksis from Mathura of the Kusana period, except that every touch of grace has been eliminated and they look less like courtesans (which is what the Yaksis, despite their symbolic content, resemble), and more like the common whores of Bombay.

A great deal has been made of Souza's transformation of Indian sculpture, mostly by Souza himself who claims that this great tradition had remained unnoticed by Indian artists and that it was left to him and his colleagues to use it for a radical purpose. This, of course, is not strictly true. The Bengali artists of the first half of the century were well aware of the different aspects of the Indian tradition though we may criticize their use of it. Amrita Sher-Gil, sensitive to Indian art, was enraptured by Mathura sculpture as she had been with the Ajanta frescoes precisely for the reason of their magnificent plasticity. George Keyt was intimately familiar with the voluptuous forms of the Indian artistic heritage and used them with considerable zest. Souza used Indian sculpture with more boldness than any of his predecessors, it is true. What the emaciated, shame-faced nude models at the art school could not provide him, the stone apsaras did, full-bodied and generous as they were in form and posture. But as for his transformation of Indian sculpture, if we see it in the context of European art of the early part of this century, he appears merely one among several artists 'discovering' a native tradition. He does this, moreover, in terms of an already well-established modern idiom, and makes of it something entirely predictable. To convert a courtesan into a contemporary prostitute does not after all require a great deal of imagination.

By 1951-52 Souza's female figures take on a remarkably compact form and a distinct style. He conceives for himself a primitive, archaic, prototype for Indian erotic imagery. Out of a porous day-like texture of paint he moulds a rounded trunk and limbs and the figures look like large clay dolls with broad, bland features. The dolls, characterized by simple gestures (the female holding a phallic-shaped lamp, or a flowering branch), can also be taken for primitive cult deities. [22]

From around 1953, however, his women begin to appear contemporary and for the most part European. The emphasis on the face and expression increases; correspondingly the influence of Indian sculpture decreases though not its attribute of voluptuousness.

From now on Souza's hard, clear, emphatic line serves especially well to delineate the type of woman that he most consistently paints, the whorish woman in all her tough beauty. Sometimes she is a common hussy, sometimes an ageold temptress draped in a sparkling fur. She is innocent, wicked and savage. On rare occasions she conveys the pathos of her condition.

Half Nude Girl in a Chair (1960) defies all categories of lewdness and makes the whole notion of shame wholly redundant. On the other hand, the Sitting Nude (1962), with her pinched face and caved-in body, recalls Souza's own descriptions of the emaciated models who posed for the students in the Bombay art school; the wretched model having acquired, in the artist's moment of looking back, a tragic aspect which puts her at par with some of the most memorable nudes in modern art.

The central point to note in regard to his portrayal of the woman is that whichever aspect of her he presents, she is always the other. This otherness is different from one posited in an existentialist equation; it is the consequence, specifically, of man's self-appointed place at the centre of a universe in which the woman becomes both external and contingent to man's existence. This, one should add, is not Souza's special problem and what is therefore more specifically interesting is how Souza's habitual attitude of antagonism against the other combines with this conspicuous hedonism.

Because of the promised pleasure, the obvious expression of antagonism is suppressed when he paints a woman's image. He seldom shows her in a sly or evil aspect as he so often shows his male characters. On the contrary, his female figure usually possesses a disarming boldness and the good humour of a generous if somewhat gross nature. He is indulgent; she falls for the bargain. Naturally one asks whether the simple-minded willingness on the part of a woman to give herself is not a virtue rather too specially devised for the convenience of a man; and whether by suppressing all signs of vulnerability in her image, he is not making her that much less human.

Place Souza's female figures vis-a-vis two Americans' - Willem de Kooning and the Pop painter Tom Wesselmann - and Souza's attitude to the woman will be further clarified. The two Americans, each in his own way, depersonalize the woman. But while de Kooning gives his wild tarts a ferocious grin and the benefit of mockery, Wesselmann's females are entirely passive and all too readily consumable, like freshly unpacked dolls, all mouth and breasts and pubis. Souza's women fall somewhere in between. There is decidedly an active presence in them, a self-conscious sexiness to be precise and a wily personality like that of a well-fed cat. Yet the whole characterization, if you come to think of it, is quite conventional, and a cat for all her agility is prone to end up as a pet. A pet is handled freely, playfully, but not, of course, humanly.

The theme of the woman is directly related to the erotic theme and Souza has drawn and painted many overtly erotic pictures. Depending on the moral codes one goes by, they may be categorized as pornographic, since the images emphasize the sexual parts of the body and sometimes depict couples in intercourse. There is, as-we know, a long tradition of erotic imagery in the history of world art and of its adjunct, pornography. Usually a definition of eroticism will turn out to be more useful than that of pornography. Eroticism, derived from the word Eros, is deeply rooted in the regenerative life-instinct andeventhesuperficialities andaberrations in therendering of erotic images in decandent ages are better seen in that perspective.

Souza has often quoted the Indian tradition as a sanction for his own erotic imagery: to justify it, elevate it, and to put it into perspective. I have already pointed out Souza's stylistic derivations from Indian sculpture, particularly its highly plastic handling which gives the figure its organic, fruit-like voluptuousness. Here we should look into the question in further detail as it will help distinguish Souza's particular position in respect to eroticism.

There is a profusion of erotic images in India from the tenth century onwards. There are naturalistic depictions of the sexual act which are often crude, both in content and execution; there are the superbly majestic maithuna figures on the lofty perches of the temple, and these, meant as they are to embody a high degree of yogic sophistication, demand of the sculptor an extraordinary plasticity of form. There are pictorial scenes of amorous couples in the miniatures, and here the embellishments of the setting suggest a prior scene of courtly seduction. There are also examples, mainly pictorial, where sexual union is designated by motifs such as the Sri Yantra comprising interpenetrating triangles.

Indian erotic imagery is related most conspicuously to Tantrism. The Tantrikas regard the union of male and female principles (purusa and prakrti) as both a metaphor and a method for the attainment of sahaja-mahasukha or cosmic non-duality. As such, sexual union is one of the spiritual stages of Tantric sadhana and the initiated couples (among them, monks and ascetics) are trained to achieve both versatility and perfect precision in the act, in order that they gain a foretaste of ultimate bliss. But as Dr Desai points out, [23] the lavishness, the forms of exhibitionism and ostentation which often accompany erotic imagery place it in an unmistakably medieval and feudal context, revealing the cultural origins, the political ambitions, the self-indulgent, opulent and often decadent life-styles of the feudal patrons who adopted Tantrism and commissioned the temples. At yet another level the erotic motifs in sculpture are also in a sense petrified depictions of fertility rites; the rites themselves being possibly the precursors to the concept of purusa and prakrti. This also partly explains the extroversion of the imagery, a deliberate 'vulgarity' being an integral part of certain primitive rituals.

The point for our purpose is that the attitude towards sexuality as expresed in Indian art is wholly positive. Sex is regarded as an occasion for celebration whether at the level of sheer pleasure, ecstasy, bliss or transcendence. Souza, who belongs to a different religion and for the reason a different tradition, scarcely imbibes that attitude. The gladness of primitive sexuality is absent from his erotic imagery as also the majesty of the maithuna images. The sexual acrobatics he sometimes depicts have little or nothing to do with yogic sophistication: they serve only to stand piety on its head.

As I mentioned above, traditional cultures, from the primitive to feudal, permit and even encourage an exuberant and a weird lasciviousness. But their reasons are not really Souza's. Perhaps the bourgeois patrons encourage him to indulge in sexual imagery for their titillation; but at a more serious level his express purpose is to be obscene so that he may defy, be offensive and blasphemous. The more sexually emphatic his images are, the more self-conscious and the more frenetic. This attitude derives unconsciously from a deep-set belief in the original sin.

I have no desire to redeem myself or any body else because Man by his very nature is unredeemable, yet he hankers so desperately after redemption. I wanted to hang myself on the cross with my hands and feet nailed to have arrows quivering in my neck like flies, while in the sweetness of repose in absolute bliss, the bliss of Ananda....[24]

Pleasure is indistinguishable from agony; transcendence as expressed in the concept of ananda is subject to the possibility of redemption through the Christian notion of forgiveness. Nietzsche, to whom we have referred before, while making his furious attack on the Judaic-Christian tradition, also shows the way out and beyond it. He makes a definite option for the pagan concept of man and for the gods of pagan mythologies. "Dionysus against the Crucified," he declared at the end of his Ecce Homo. In this respect Nietzsche has many heirs among the modem artists. Picasso is the greatest among them. Souza hesitates at the threshold.

We have already argued the pros and cons of Souza's image of the woman, the prime object of erotic art in a male-dominated universe. In the Christian version of this universe the woman is regarded as the Devil's instrument. Although Souza ostensibly exorcises the shame of sin from the image of Eve (so unforgettably portrayed in the art of Europe), her freedom remains, in his hands, a very doubtful proposition'. Proud in her role of temptress, she is still a captive of desire and this time, on account of a flaw in the artist's consciousness, not that of God. She has no opportunity to fashion her own identity, moulded as she is by man's desire. We have already alluded to this and it is pertinent to ask whether Souza is not looking at the woman still as an agent of sin, except that now the sin has turned into delight and, as the images would testify, into uncensored debauchery.

In contrast consider how Picasso, from whom Souza has derived much of his style, portrays the woman. In Picasso's paintings, the pleasure of love as mutually experienced by the lovers is contained in the woman's fulsome and extraordinarily alive form so that she appears as neither object nor idol, but a fully sentient being. Picasso's image of the woman is a life-affirming image; it originates from his instinctive understanding of Eros.

In classical mythology Eros battles with Thanatos, the personification of death. For Picasso, because the woman's capacity to feel personal pleasure is so great, pain, which the obverse of pleasure, is most acute and absolute when experienced through her. And thus it is in her form that the contending forces of life and death are embodied. Consequently also, it is during the years of mounting terror preceding World War II that Picasso's woman acquired her most complete identity. Through the image of the woman, at one moment innocent and serene, at the next, piteously distorted, mangled by violence, Picasso alternated between an expression of marvellous passion and brutal suffering. In the culminating painting, Guernica, there is a woman's figure looming across, tortured out of shape but carrying aloft a lamp, the symbol ofhope.

Theinstinctfor life passingthrough the entiregamut of pleasure and pain returns Picasso to nature like a primitive or in Rousseau's terms, like a 'noble savage.' And the point we are driving at is this. In adopting such a position, he is adopting, intuitively, what amounts to a political position. The reinstatement of Eros at the heart of society becomes, as Herbert Marcuse argues in his Eros and Civilisation, a revolutionary purpose because such a reinstatement presupposes a wholly different form of civilization where the reality principle is no longer allowed to assume its terrorizing role on the instinctual powers of man; where the physical and the spiritual spheres of man, separated as antagonistic elements by a repressive civilization, find a new integration.

Although Picasso is not strictly political, through an instinctive logic of survival he rejects the Christian ethic which has to a large extent guided the course of Western civilization and brought it to its crisis. And again, although from a strictly political point of view his outsider's role may be seriously limited, it is of significance in conceiving a future society which, according to Marcuse, we should see as nothing less than a monumental aesthetic construct.

What function does Souza's erotic imagery serve? We have seen that just as he shares very little of the magical-spiritual basis of Indian erotic imagery, he shares little of the pagan spirit. Despite the fact that he presents sites and scenes of sexual pleasure, he seems to know nothing of the sporting amorousness of the gods on Mount Olympus. He is, if anything, the ringmaster of a circus parade where the members perform a sexual frolic without for a moment relaxing or surrendering themselves. The ringmaster reserves the right to strip everyone down, leaving the viewers aghast. But he does not contribute towards any kind of liberation, not even his own. For although he has the whip in his hand, he is willy-nilly a part of the whole gory show.

What I am suggesting is that just as Souza accepts the Christian myths, he accepts almost wholly the terms and conditions of Western civilization to which he has aligned himself by option, having migrated to the West in his early twenties. Specifically speaking, he whole-heartedly partakes of the latent deathwish of a civilization driven to the peak of its power. Whether we take his image of the dead and rotting Christ, or the hideously deformed mother and child, or the 'manufacturer of nuclear weapons,' or the shuddering landscapes, Souza is a painter of doom and destruction as seen from the inside of a suicidal civilization.

But even accepting the fact that Souza is unable to express the life-endowing aspect of Eros, it may be argued that a painter like him plays his part in bringing the terrors of a smouldering civilization to purgation. Much of Souza's art, with its high-pitched vibrations and hysterical imagery, operates at that level and it would still be no mean achievement if in trying to grapple with Christian ethics he were able to shake a little of the value structure of Western society. For achieving this, however, the artist must be able to effect a thorough going examination of the symbols of that civilization, to prise them open, as it were, and expose their contents. Consider for a moment the Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel and Souza's limitations will stand out sharply. By parodying Catholic rituals Bunuel systematically creates a disjunction between belief and reality; by revealing the dysfunctional and mala fide nature of the faith in which he himself is born (the same as Souza's) he shows up the dead-ends of its cultural roots. Souza with all his genius flounders between the abyss that faces the Christian in the form of sin and the bourgeois in the form of illegality, and falls short of achieving the real and critical objective of shaking the superstructure of the civilization he attacks. In the moment of floundering he utters war-cries and resorts to excess of gesture, petrifying genuine expression, turning it into caricature.

But caricatures can have a brilliant if short life and Souza has very successfully used this technique to portray social types and characters. Never having given up the social commentary he bagan with during the 1940s, he has devised characters which include, besides the whole range of priests and prostitutes, tramps, tycoons, gentlemen, and dismembered monarchs. He paints Oedipus Rex (1961), the tragic king as helpless as any blind beggar, and complements him with the portrait of the beastly Inquisitor (1961) showing his meaty claws. Mad Prophet in New York (1961) is matched by the fur-coated Manufacturer of Nuclear Weapons (1962), the one bewildered out of his wits, the other cross-eyed and malevolent as his role demands.

These characterizations are achieved without resorting to any hack methods of social comment. Around 1955 he fashioned for his purpose a distinctive type of male head for which he is perhaps best known. It is a face without a forehead, bearded and pock-marked, eyes bulging from the sides of the skull like a frog's, a mouth full of multiple sets of teeth. It is a combined portrait of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, sly, evil and at the same time terrified. A set of these he calls Six Gentlemen of Our Times (1955).

There is a great deal of punning in these portraits and swift diabolic transformations from one known type to another. Mr Sebastian (1955) takes after Saint Sebastian but wears a dark suit, and the arrows that pierced the innocent body of the Saint are here stuck into the man's face and neck with a vengeance which, judging from his evil countenance, he seems to merit. Is it the Saint who is suspect in Souza's eyes, or the suave gentleman?

The device of the arrow incidentally serves him time and again. Sometimes the arrows are as small as needles, sometimes as long as lances and Souza uses them for the purpose of a kind of voodoo, destroying the enemy by piercing his stuffed effigy. Indeed the way he rigs up his image with his brushwork, the way he mauls it, stamps it, suggests that he quite believes in the magical efficacy of images. Andrew Forge, writing on Souza's work, once said, "You can see him closing in on his images as though they could save his life or backing away from them as though they could kill him."[25]

The first phase of his fiendish portraiture had, however, already come into a formal crisis around 1957. The linear elements on which he relied so heavily developed certain routine tricks. The formal device he had adopted (two parallel lines cross-hatched on either side) to delineate his hairy monsters tended to become a mere shorthand technique as also the frenzied manner of painting. In 1960 he managed a breakthrough and in the year following, another set of portraits appeared with a change both in their appearance andmode ofexecution.Instead of theparallel linescross-hatched on either side, he now used a technique of scribbling, covering the initial image with a multitude of discs and loops and rings which serve to suggest eyes, teeth, hair, nails, ornaments, or, with minimum variation, embroidered motifs on the garments.

Because Souza believes in hitting off the image when it is red hot, he usually takes recourse to short-hand methods, tricks of his swift and versatile brush which can serve to characterize different sorts of personages. His use of a linear style continues to provide the pictures with a crazy animation and fantastic ornamental flourish. But only when he paints an image that is a cruel or farcical representation of some identifiable type within society is he truly successful in utilizing his language to advantage. Otherwise the hideous image, however cunningly devised, becomes a stereotype among others, only rather more easy and exciting to picturize.

Souza belongs to the important category of artists who have helped to demolish whatever vestiges of conceit that were attached to the human image in the present age. But a most justified rage, taken beyond limits, becomes merely hysterical. And a state of hysteria vitiates all forms of genuine expression. We can only reiterate that he often overshoots his mark and that a large number of his paintings of different phases fall into the fault of excess.

We should here take into account two sub-themes that have featured regularly throughout the various phases of Souza's work: landscapes and still-lifes. He is one of the very few Indian painters to paint the still-life which is almost wholly a Western genre, and a specifically bourgeois one. Its first full-fledged emergence in the seventeenth-century Dutch painting testifies to that fact: recall those endless pictures of well-stacked dining tables piled with fish and fowl and mutton and gleaming with silver plate. This display of consumer wellbeing was tempered in the hands of a discreet painter like Chardin, and still later in the hands of the Impressionists; the nineteenth century still-life, consisting of a glass of absinthe and a few apples, becoming a token of a bohemian life-style, an alternate adjunct to the bourgeois one. With the Cubists the still-life took another turn as they made it a point to use a set of conspicuously modest objects to support the intricate architecture of forms. The Cubist attitude thus definitely reduced the commodity aspect of the object in art and it was a logical next step for the Dadaists to openly ridicule the reification of objects in a technological civilization. And then, a little later, Leger provided what might be called a proletarian version of the man-made object: the object as tool and instrument and functional necessity manufactured for the benefit of every man in the advanced industrial society. In the decades after World War II when commodity consumption increased manifold, and the form of the advertized image loomed up everywhere in the city, it gave rise to the equivocal position of the Pop artist; an artist whose irony is wedged between a fascination for and distrust of the consumer culture.

Putting Souza's still-lifes against this background one realizes with a certain surprise that he fits into almost none of these categories. His still-lifes have an odd characteristic: they consist of things used in liturgical practice. They are mostly ornate vessels and sacred objects. These objects retain their ritual aspect both on account of the visual description and composition. They appear brightly burnished and sometimes carry a halo such as a devotee must imagine each holy object to possess as he sees it being carried forth in High Mass. They are, moreover, clustered formally as if on the shelf of the sacristy.

Apart from the still-lifes of sacred objects, Souza paints still-lifes of an assortment of edible things. Even here there is a frequent appearance of a loaf of bread, a flask of wine and fish, all religious symbols or inclined to be read as such by anyone who knows the sacrament of the Holy Communion.

The point is, his objects belong neither to the intimate comforts of a home nor to the glamour of the market-place, both environments being specifically bourgeois in their origins. Very curiously in the object-world he reclaims the sense of the sacred that he so consciously drains from the human being and from God.

The second sub-theme that recurs throughout is the landscape. Until I960, there is nothing particularly remarkable about his landscapes. Excepting an occasional image of a church which may possess the secret and gloomy quality of an oft-visited shrine, he follows on the whole a rather commonplace convention popularized by Bernard Buffet: a severe linear structure built up of a multitude of right-angle lines, the bare trees in the landscape providing the lyrical touch.

Around 1960, however, Souza's landscapes begin to change drastically. A huge cracker seems to go off in the foundations of his cities and the buildings begin to sway and tumble and lean against each other in frantic postures. These rityscapes, produced in frequent succession, remind one a little of Van Gogh who put his landscapes awhirl with his spiritual passions, and of Soutine, a painter Souza has always immensely admired. Souza's landscapes follow the logic of these two artists except that the passion is negative, and the source is very likely war. In 1963, in- an interview in The Illustrated Weekly of India, Souza said: "Today my art rings with an apocalyptic message; with holocaust, thalidomide and the vision that man's own inventive evil may transform him into a monster."[26] His cityscapes, then, are the habitation of his frenzied figures and both can be interpreted as belonging to the nuclear age which threatens to bring global destruction.

Souza's recent, most prolific output consists of what he calls 'chemical paintings'. Cutting out colour-photos from glossy magazines, he bleaches out a part of the picture and draws over it, attempting some sort of relationship between the super-slick image of the magazine now partially dissolved and his own graffiti-style drawing. Not only is the intention of scribbling over nude girls and luscious dishes of food somewhat banal, these pictures are obviously dated in their effect. The Dada and Pop (or neo-Dada) artists have perfected the art of desecration, if one might call it that, and taken it out of the hands of the naughty school boy who scrawls out obscenities in the toilet to ease his tensions and shock the elders. Souza is barely able to raise the level of his mischief beyond this stage.

Even when there is evidence of genuine agitation it barely comes off because he never rises above the generally superficial level of social concern at which he has settled in the past several years. The few paintings in this technique that he turned out duringtheBangladeshbattle are a casein pint. TakingTimes magazine photographs of multilated bodies he proceeded to vent his feelings by mutilating them further, by bleaching and dissolving the given pictures and adding a few stabbing marks to the disaster. This act seemed to assume that the artist's furious signature on the scene would make the tragedy more credible, or more tragic. In fact, these pictures are a sad proof of his loss of nerve as an artist, both as a mocking vandal and as a brilliant draughtsman. At a more fundamental level, the loss is that of subject-matter; a malaise that quite often strikes the Expressionist artist in the midst of his career when he finds he has used up all his targets in the tremendous output of his youth, and along with it his weaponry.

Take the example of George Grosz. His masterful drawings in Germany after World War I show Grosz to be intellectually and technically as precise in his satiric expression as he is ferocious. Then in, 1933 he migrates to the USA and almost immediately his forms start becoming flabby and dissolute, hardly able to sustain the humour, leave alone the hard-bitten satire of his earlier work. If Grosz found it difficult to maintain his revolutionary commitments in an alien country of superabundant luxuries, might Souza not be the victim of a similar sense of debilitation and ineffectuality? It is not altogether incidental that these chemical pictures were started only after he migrated to the USA and that in their 'iconography' they are expressly American.

Since the past six years or so, Souza has also introduced into his repertoire, figures from Hindu mythology. The Christian subject-matter continues but now if one day he paints the well-tested image of the Crucifixion, the next day he will paint Siva and Parvati or Visnu in the avatara of Varaha. He has developed an intellectual enthusiasm for Hindu metaphysics (particularly the Bhagavad Gita) and an aesthetic admiration for the perennial and versatile gods of the Hindu pantheon. How far these interests penetrate his psyche is difficult to say and the evidence of his work is not still sufficient for proving the point either way. Judging from his continued sense of agitation, and his tortured ego; judging from the way he still couples pleasure and torment, sex and violence in his words and images, one would surmise that the psyche in which the images are nurtured continues to be Christian in its essential orientation. What is the place which the Hindu gods might find in such an ambiance of heart and mind?

The Hindu gods are not by any means always sublime. They are, in fact, eccentric and unashamedly violent in their disposition. But they are, precisely for that reason, successful manifestations of the great cunning and majesty of life. They give form to the fundamental verities that go beyond pleasure and pain, even for that matter good and evil, and in that sense subsume the individual and his existential anguish in their own amplitude.

In Hindu thought the gods, and with them, the men, acquire their psychological dimension in the framework of a mythic cosmology. This in turn is hitched to an immense and cyclic concept of time (kala) which by its very conception eliminates the terror of judgment contained incipiently in any linear concept of time. The Hindu gods, then, are neither a reminder of guilt in the way Christ is nor harbingers of redemption or doom, and his accounts for the easy intercourse of gods and men in matters of everyday life.

The Indian tradition resembles all other primarily mythic traditions in that it assumes a universally present, immanent divinity in all forms of nature; but it has the distinction of conceiving at the same time, and as early as the Upanisadic period, a transcendent God as well. The simultaneity of the immanent-transcendent concept of divinity assumes a supra-personal notion of the self (atman) and the gods correspondingly have the same characteristic, but with the added dimension of being the avatars of a formless Absolute. Compare this to the historical, human, Christ figure, the Son of God, walking this earth and suffering personally on our behalf and the difference in orientation to the question of man and God in the two traditions under discussion will become apparent.

The problem that Souza is likely to face while switching from Christ to a Hindu god is the problem of transforming the deeply personalized identity of man and God as conceived in the Christian tradition. If he wishes to paint Siva, for instance, he has to recognize that as a representation of the Absolute, Siva is at once capricious, dynamic and somnolent, and being everything at once he possesses par excellence the supra-personal identity we have been talking about.

Souza must recognize this if he is not taking up Hindu iconography merely in order to enlarge his repertoire of weird characters. But the mere recognition of the problem is not sufficient either. The theoretical problem presents itself to the artist as a problem of devising an appropriate language of forms. The question therefore remains whether a language tuned to the pitch of frenzy such as Souza has developed can be suitably employed for the portrayal of the Hindu gods.

The problems we anticipated are visible in Souza's work. The head of Ganesa drawn with a black line over a mottled surface of thick paint looks so similar to his continuous series of deformed heads that it seems pointless to insist that it is Ganesa at all. Fortunately there are a few examples where Souza shows at least a consciousness of the problem involved, and that by the evidence precisely of his changed language. The first noticeable feature in these more successful paintings of Siva and Parvati or Varaha is a suppression of the outline. The persistent, self-assertive, line which always defined (and overdefined) the figure is worked out of the picture, so that the brush-work surfaces in a loose open-ended pattern, giving the forms of the figure an expansive quality and an aspect of being alternately in and out of focus. To complement this, he has changed his palette. The bronzed colours are reserved still for the Crucifixion image. The gods are painted in light, bright, gaudy colours and a conspicuous device of stipling the outer edges of forms with white blobs of paint is used to make them appear almost fluorescent. Illumined with garlands of light, their shapes dissolve and congeal as if they were the particles of a dream. Or if we concede to him his preoccupations with Hinduism, they are perhaps his version of Maya.

The fact that Souza is at least attempting to transfigure his vocabulary proves that he takes his present iconography seriously. Whether this can give any new dimension to the forms of gods themselves, is of course another question; a question which Husain or anyone else who tackles an icon afresh faces. There is an even more difficultquestionand onethat Souza has farfrom answered. Canone give a new form to an icon-image if one does not relate to the deep set numen that it embodies? And does not the numen altogether escape when it is handled by profane hands?

At the end of this discussion of themes it would be useful to make a quick, feature-by-feature analysis of Souza's pictorial idiom. The idiom is consistently Expressionist and it will be well to place it in relationship to other Expressionist painters so as to prepare the way for a more fundamental reckoning with Expressionism as a phenomenon of major consequence in the modern epoch. Of the pictorial elements it is decidedly the line which is the most developed part of Souza's vocabulary. Whether it is ornamental or abrupt, lyric or diabolic, Souza's line is derived from Picasso; from Picasso's unmatched virtuosity in delineating an object or figure with the sheer element of line. One has only to compare Souza to his contemporary figurative Expressionists to realize how much freer he is in the simultaneous manipulation of mind and hand, and how much more tough and incisive.

In recent paintings the line is suppressed or even eliminated. In recent drawings he is trying apparently to develop the scribble into a viable proposition of graphic expression; to derive out of a graffiti-style drawing a language rather in the manner of Dubuffet. His success in this is very limited. His best drawings are still those where he registers a keen, hard and voluptuous lines; or those where he uses a sort of wiry-whiskered line (cross-hatched on either side) to create a bristling effect, the one appropriate for the female nude, the other for his religious and mythological subjects (The Temptation of St. Anthony, St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata, The Crucifixion and The Pieta), which he handles in a characteristically impassioned and satiric manner.

In the use of colour, usually the most effective element in the hands of Expressionists on account of its emotive and symbolic power, Souza is relatively weak. His paintings are really drawn in paint, the line predominating over all other elements and serving to outline, encase and define an image; serving also to provide tonal variations (through the same technique of cross-hatching as in drawings) and to give the painting a structural and surface unity. Compare him to the very Expressionists who have influenced him most, Rouault, Soutine and Picasso, and Souza's muted, burnished colours with their 'old master' tonality appear to be positively conservative. Indeed it is difficult to understand how a painter can quote Soutine as an influence and not develop the element of colour to its expressive potential, for Soutine's image - its contour, shape, and volume as well as its emotional intensity - is very directly the consequence of his passionate handling of colour. Leaving aside some of his more recent paintings discussed above, colour for Souza has at best served to express a sense of spontaneous bravado: the reds and greens are often simply squeezed out of the tube and slapped on to a base of a muddy tone and texture.

Nor is the surface quality of the pigment especially exciting. The surface is articulated with blobs and ridges of pigment left by the agile brushwork, but the articulation is wholly familiar if you come to consider it in the light of painting techniques after Impressionism. Paint texture has been intensively exploited in twentieth-century painting and the Expressionists have used it most conspicuously for the subjective rendering of an image. It will suffice to show in the example of Francis Bacon how it might be exploited by a figurative Expressionist (one who is contemporary to Souza) for his own intense advantage, for Bacon handles oil paint to produce a slick, slimy surface out of its viscous substance, making the very stuff of the medium the repellent aspect of a deliberately alienating image. Souza's agitated paint surface is appropriate enough for his imagery. But in so far as he does not extend the use of the medium into new expressive possibilities the medium only just serves the imagery in a conventional way.

Both line and colour acquire their potentiality in terms of the painter's spatial concept. A painting is at once a physical fact and a metaphysical proposition: it is a space that refers to another space of a completely speculative nature in which the universe of one's imagination functions. Given the fact that the same subject-matter is capable of any number of variations on the basis of its formal rendering by the artist, the meaning we derive from an image will depend on the spatial concept underlying it. It follows that it should be impossible to read off the meaning of the picture from the figure (or figures) in a picture without reference to the 'ground'. By the same token if you can read the meaning more or less adequately by exclusive reference to the figure, you are perhaps gaining a convenience at the cost of an important complexity.

The complexity of space and structure has been rediscovered in modern art by artists foraging in several artistic traditions. We know, for example, that Cubism radically changes the figure-ground concept, and with it the notion of positive and negative space in such a way that the image becomes totally unalienable from the picture surface. That means you cannot any more translate an idea into a picutre; you can only think out the idea on the picture surface in terms of the pictorial elements.

Now the space in Souza's pictures is by and large a blank ground, somewhat cursorily prepared to receive a figure which remains from start to finish the prime, positive and self-complete proposition. The picture surface is sometimes animated with a textural pattern or a wild scribble which gives an apparent unity to figure and ground, but when you examine the picture there is seldom any structural relation between the two, or even a truly complex sense of design (such as the close-knit ornamental pattern in oriental miniatures or in a successful Matisse, equivalents in a sense of the complex, interpenetrating formal structure in Cubist paintings).

What are the implications of this somewhat simplistic figure-ground relationship in the majority of Souza's paintings? Does it not suggest that Souza's images have no unique orientation in the universe; that moreover, they spring from what have become merely ready-made ideas in the history of art? Or that the intention supersedes in importance the actual image? Although there is a dearth in the energy with which the image is painted, we can seriously question whether it is not all expended in the act itself, the act becoming something like a ritual performance. And it suddenly strikes one that this is precisely the attitude with which a sorcerer will make an effigy. It is the intention and the act which actually constitute the core of magic, not the form of the image used for the purpose.Wehavealluded before toSouza's version of voodoo;we see now how it affects the quality of his images. Realizing perhaps the futility of practising magic without the support of the entire structure of underlying beliefs Souza is driven to mounting displays of frenzy. And in direct proportion to his sense of futility, there is a deterioration in the painting image.

At this stage, a brief retrospective analysis of Expressionism will help explain Souza's career, and in so far as that analysis reveals the fundamental conditions which accompany Expressionist art, it will place Souza within a conceptual framework, the elements of which have already arisen in the course of interpreting his work.

If Expressionism as a major movement in modern art is understood to mean a deliberate overcoming of the natural, normal, rational man to discover the real and hidden meaning of phenomena obscured by appearances and habits of perception, then Expressionism is clearly related to European Romanticism of the nineteenth century. But Romanticism itself is an eruption - though in a radically different form - of the angst first felt and expressed in the arts during sixteenth century Mannerism.[27] For if Mannerism is characterized by an arbitrary treatment of reality, a capriciousness of form and artificiality of expression, then a good deal of European Romanticism and Expressionism may be said to have been practised in a conspicuously Mannerist spirit.

Each of the three phases - Mannerism, Romanticism and Expressionism - is identified in terms of art history as a phase of tension within a given language and style, an extension and distortion of its hitherto accepted function to breaking point. But it is equally necessary to undertake with a stylistic analysis an historical one. And this will reveal that these three phases mark three successive stages in the process of social alienation that made rapid headway in Western society after the breakup of the medieval world. The particular styles, then, will be seen as reflections of the desperate struggle of the individual to find his feet in a world that is losing its divine sanction as well as its social coherence. A world, moreover, in which the individuality of a man, even as it is emphatically posited on humanistic grounds, is simultaneously undermined by the emergence of an industrial-capitalist economy, based as it is on extreme division of labour, and leading to dehumanization of men as to the reification of the product of their labour.

An alienated individual turns inwards, entering forcibly into the areas of ambivalence within himself. His own uncertain identity becomes a matter of intense fascination for himself. This is first and most vividly represented in works of art, which show in all these stages of spiritual crisis a marked narcissism, brilliant, decadent,, and obsessively anxious. But the same factors that lead to alienation and self-withdrawal also lead through alienation to protest. The rebel in the anarchist sense emerges also at the beginning of the modern era, at the stage when modern economic and political structures (capitalism and the State) begin to imprint themselves on the lives of individuals, and to narrow their ground of existence.

The entire process of alienation and its effect on art reached its bitterly impassioned stage already in the last century. The artist in the role of a rebel came to be a fully confirmed entity in the nineteenth century.

That Souza belongs to the category of the rebel is evident from the themes and style of his paintings and from his personal behaviour. Flaming and raging through the years he has succeeded in presenting himself as the Fallen Angel driven from the Kingdom of God, as Lucifer avenging himself by rending the veil of sublimity. "Renaissance painters painted men and women, making them look like angels," he says, "I paint for angels to show them what men and women really look like."[28] With the tip of his sword - brush, palette knife or pen - he reveals what he considers human beings to be: "greedy and bellicose" creatures, and it is his brilliance as an artist that the images he unveils in such flashes of devilry are so convincing, one wonders they did not spring to the retina before.

Souza's assumption of the role of the Devil has obviously to do with his Christian upbringing. But at the same time this identification should be seen in the context of nineteenth century art and literature in continental Europe. A lurking satanism characterizes the work of many artists of the Romantic period. The rebellion of the artist, which assumes its fully developed form with the Romantics, is the cry of outraged innocence where the option of evil is exalted for the reason that God has for so long utilized the notion of good for His own unjust purposes. The rebel in this form attempts to prove, by his act of continual transgression, the need for a metaphysical insurrection in which God is blasphemed and then killed off, the better to reckon with the business of human life on earth. "And evil is greater than good, greater than God, positive, devastating intolerant," Souza once wrote. "And when you choose evil, you can't throw bones of contention away. You will have to chew them yourself and like them. And if God sends his Son again, you will have to break him in every bone so that He will not rise again...."[29]

But the nineteenth century offers several models of the rebel, using variously the medium of metaphysics, poetry, and politics. Souza's model comes from Baudelaire, who designates the rebel as a Dandy, a person who lives and sleeps before the mirror, a self-reflecting, self-dramatizing person, wholly preoccupied with being himself. That 'self' is defined in the midst of the surrounding chaos as an aesthetically wrought 'character'; a character assumes a public, which is the Dandy's mirror. But in order to keep it sensitized he must constantly stimulate it. He must put on strange and provocative appearances and astonish the imaginary audience. He must favour crime if that will define him better and celebrate terror if that will distinguish him from the faceless masses. "When I have inspired universal disgust and horror, I shall have conquered solitude,"[30] Baudelaire says. That is the voice of the Fallen Angel. Baudelaire's Dandy, then, is the religious hero upside down, Lucifer again, denying God, man and nature to claim his unique identity.

That Souza is engaged in inspiring universal disgust and horror is apparent in almost every aspect of his life and art. Consider in this context his exasperating boastfulness. Consider his continual play-acting: "I adopt many postures in a given situation, thus testing its gravity."[31] Consider his deliberate vulgarisms, his incessant declarations: "I can't differentiate good from evil, purity from perversity....And if I could, I'd always chooseevilandperversity, helland brimstone, fornication andcorruption...."[32] And relate all this to the cruelty and lechery, the violence and corruption portrayed in his images and we will discover the niche in which Souza conveniently fits; a niche provided by Baudelaire in his conception of the Dandy and the Devil.

For Baudelaire the "postulation toward Satan" was, as Sartre quoting Jean Wahl suggests,[33] a process of downward transcendence (‘transdescendence'), a movement that Baudelaire himself thought as passionate and vital as the upward movement ('transascendence'). There is little doubt that Souza is spun out with these centrifugal forces in the very spirit of Baudelaire.

But the metaphysical position and poetic idiom of Baudelaire cannot be separated from the historical moment in which he lived. Baudelaire could claim to be the first and most articulate modern artist; an uprooted individual, alienated city-dweller and disillusioned dreamer. Baudelaire embodied a unique historical moment in his passionate and tragic person. This will explain the extraordinary telescoping in his style of the Mannerist, Romantic and Expressionist spirit. But precisely for that reason, the strenuous paradoxes and grimacing distortions of expression reach with him such a degree of finality that others who follow in his footsteps, adopting his categories of antagonism, veer dangerously into hysterics. By the time we come to our own time, the Devil as an agent provocateur along with his antagonist God, for all metaphorical purposes, is dead. At any rate a century later, the stubbornness of a solitary desperado styled after Satan and borrowing from him his avenging fury becomes less and less viable. A century later you cannot horrify the bourgeoisie by extolling crime. It is now they who invent the rules of the game. Nor can you achieve personal transcendence through the transfigured metaphor of evil.

The very solitude of which the poets of the nineteenth century speak so poignantly is cheapened in this century by a fully established capitalistconsumer society which brings imagination into market-place like any other commodity. The twentieth-century protest, therefore, takes the form of Dadaism and Surrealism where precisely that capitalist-consumer society and the values it upholds are attacked. In the twentieth century, the themes of sex and violence are related by the artist no longer to the Devil. In their new and vast dimension given to these two instincts by Freud, they are used as effective means to undermine a whole social order.

There is no doubt that Souza traverses the distance between the two centuries in that his antagonism has a contemporary society in view and his language - distinctly Expressionist - belongs unmistakably to this century. The question at this stage is whether besides covering simply the distance, he derives the content of his rebel's role and its particular forms of expression from his concrete experience, for on that depends how far and in what direction he takes this role.

The success and failure of an artist is discernible in terms of the language, idiom and style that he adopts. That there is a latent politics of language only confirms the axiom that the idea and form in art are inexorably interrelated in what we call the content of a work of art. Souza's choice of the Expressionist idiom is entirely appropriate and even logical. But that this choice falls in a ready-made framework of Western art (frequently called by the name of international art); and that this in turn is based on an unexamined notion of modernity never seems to have occurred to Souza. This is a serious, if predictable lapse in the perception of one who styles himself a rebel; predictable because colonialism provides the most fertile ground for all forms of false consciousness. We have referred to this point earlier and should examine it more closely here.

Colonialism, in that it involves a brutalization of the very ethnic sources of a people, demands a very complex ideological awareness in the victims. They must, if their independence is to mean anything at all, undertake not only to remove their political and economic ills; they must also gain a sense of identity at the deepest psychic level. The colonizers, after all, do not simply subjugate the natives and exploit them economically; they slander their culture, distort, as far as possible, the unconscious sources of life and drain the plenitude of imagination out of which a people fashion their identity.

But it may be argued that if colonization creates conditions of utter deprivation, it also excites in the moment of self-awareness a desperate necessity of transcendence. If it creates a consciousness contingent upon that of the colonizers, it also creates an ardent drive for reappraisal and authenticity. A post-colonial reckoning by the intellectual or artist requires that the selfcontempt borrowed from the foreigner be thoroughly exorcised, not in order to spare oneself but to find the relevant criteria for judging and recreating oneself. In the process will be born the song, the poem, the image that can revalorize the native memory and initiate a contemporary tradition.

Souza have never realized that a colonial inherits a fractured psyche and that he must first smash the reflecting mirror the West has provided him if he is to begin to see himself clearly. like Nirad Chaudhuri, the most famous amongst the Westophiles in contemporary India, Souza has showered contempt upon his fellow countrymen, thus hoping to appear at the same time honest, brave and superior. In whose eyes, and on whose terms? None else but the erstwhile rulers who feel abundantly amused and not a little gratified at the display of self-hatred which is after all the easiest, the least demanding form of honesty and one that they have been at pains to cultivate among their faithful subjects for centuries.

In an interview in The Illustrated Weekly of India in 1960, Souza with his customary pugnaciousness commented:

...we have no tradition in this country in art and letters....We have no continuity in our culture, no development. It has been invaded successfully and destroyed by vandals, missionaries, conquistadors and Victorians. Nor have we the vitality to give birth to new traditions, to create new forms, literary and artistic, springing from the waste and dilapidation that surrounded and still surrounds us. I do not know if the invaders successfully castrated our aesthetic potentiality one by one, or we just dwindled on our own and became culturally impotent.

Even ignoring the sheer falsehood regarding the Indian tradition, one is constrained to ask the writer of such a statement whether in exorcising himself of the ghost of patriotism he has not also emptied himself of the creative elements of an ideology that would have given meaning to his agitation and provided a foundation for his role as rebel.

WhatSouzaneverseems to havereckoned with is that becoming anexpatriate - even an entirely voluntary one - has consequences, some of them debilitating. "It's all very well to talk in metaphors about having roots in one's country but roots need water from clouds forming over distant seas; and from rivers having sources in different land," Souza once said.[34] It is a metaphoric statement in itself and a perfectly succinct one. But the exile we are talking about begins not on the day Souza left the shores of India, it begins in the moment he converted the very legitimate urge to go abroad on a voyage of discovery into the mistaken proposition that he was wrenching himself free from a paralytic chauvinism and setting out on the universal path of creative freedom.

For it is worthwhile to ask how an artist becomes genuinely universal, although there is, of course, no simple answer for it. Should he withdraw himself into the depths of his unconscious with the hope of reaching the collective psyche that lies buried under the great diversity of world cultures? Should he accept the claims of the given historical circumstances in which he is born and assuming the universal to be what is international, identify himself with the culture that most effectively dominates all others? Or, finally, should he join with those who have in the past been deprived of both the claims and the fruits of universalism and become a comrade-in-arms, determining consciously, and if necessary through ideological battle, the ground of a new, a genuine, and complete universality?

Going back to that point of time when Souza exiled himself we will find he was not alone, not at least among artists. We will find that in the very first flush of political freedom a large number of young 'progressive' writers and artists summarily disposed of the entire quest for indigenism that the previous few generations had so ardently carried out, if sometimes with misdirected zeal. We will find that among many very intelligent artists the attainment of political independence seemed to have been accompanied by a notion of artistic freedom in terms of the very same imperialist culture which the Indian people and they themselves, no doubt, were so desperate to oust. It is only a matter of further irony that this imperialist culture after centuries of unprecedented ascendency was at the very moment - in the aftermath of World War n - suffering its worst crisis. Indeed this entire phenomenon can only be understood in terms of the prolonged irony to which colonials are continually subject; for colonial conditioning can be as subtle as it is sometimes gross and glaring and in the most intimate perception of the self, it can remain undetected for long periods of time.

Far from making a critique fo the Western tradition, Indian artists - Souza and his colleagues - made at the juncture of Independence a simple equation between creativity and individualism, between these two and modernity, and forthwith adopted a wholesale Westemism, justifying it to themselves by giving it the name of internationalism. In all fairness to these artists we should add here that such aspirations for internationalism are in many ways entirely genuine, and not quite without reason. The colonial power yokes the native to its own culture and narrows their aspirations in accordance with its own political interests. As soon as the yoke is lifted the bonded people feel a desperation to test their freedom vis-a-vis the rest of the world; to assert their identity, such as it is, hybrid and self-conscious and confused, in the larger context of a presumed international culture which, for the very reason that it includes but does not wholly subserve that one particular imperial nation to which one was subject, seems the more emancipating. The need to test oneself is a sign of guts, of vitality, of a new born self-confidence.

It should also be added that in the political situation at the end of the War, the type of internationalism propagated had as its chief claim, freedom. Engaged in cold-war politics, the USA was working to project an image of individual liberty that could at once denigrate and eclipse the travail of the Soviet man. Artists - unwittingly for the most part -served as useful political tools in the hands of culture-experts and roving ambassadors of the 'free world,' particularly those artists who were breaking the bonds of tradition in their repective acts of painting. Freedom and a West-oriented internationalism came to be identified. Only later was it realized by Indians, as by other 'Third World' nations, that a manipulated internationalism does not lead to freedom even when the manipulators belong to the so-called free world.

It so happened that by the 1960s the next generation of Indian artists began to feel the necessity to reckon with the two traditions - the Western and the Indian - all over again. And this return to indigenism was no longer accompanied by a chauvinist apology, so that were Souza living in India now, he would have had to deal not only with a different sensibility but with an alternative aesthetic and ideology too. The developments of Indian art of this period do not form a part of this narrative and I bring them up here only to throw into relief the endlessly repeated fallacy that the artist has anything like absolute freedom in choosing his style. The heroic ego which Souza flashes as proof of his freedom is itself cast in the mould of a European idiom, more or less Picassian, and though this does not diminish Souza's genius, it brings into light the fact that an avowedly Indian painter can obtain as much autonomy on the basis of his own tradition as Souza does on the basis of the Western. For the degree of autonomy gained depends upon the urgency and reach of the vision which 'frees' the artist in that it takes him beyond the conventions which he initially adopts to express himself.

We have ended the biographical section on Souza with the question whether he may not again find himself in India. In view of the foregoing discussion and the last few visits of Souza to his homeland the answer is not altogether encouraging. There is a time and a place for everything; there is certainly an optimum point when the striking power of an artist is greatest.

A genuine act of rebellion or even mere agitation by one like Souza could still be worthwhile in a society such as ours. But provided it is genuine. The problems of this society are so real, so immense and so increasingly heartbreaking that a counterfeit rebellion on the part of an artist appears both unberable and pathetic. And no matter what the initial success, the whole business is finally self-defeating. What is the purpose of an agitation that irritates a few but affects no one?

"I have made my art a metabolism," Souza has often said. This is both the strength and weakness of his work. It explains the dramaticpowerofhisExpressionist idiom and its degeneration intoempty mannerism. When the organism to which the metabolism in question belongs begins to adapt itself to the environment, but maintains the postures of protest, or else, when its aggressive tactics begin to fail in an overwhelming environment, one starts to get expression without purpose, signals without a code, language without meaning. Souza, the most volatile among Indian artists, the artist with the most fierce impulse, stands at the threshold of this impasse.

In 1949 when Souza was at the threshold of his career he painted a self-portrait in which he stands brush in hand, full-length and stark naked. The bony nakedness of his body is offered, as it were, like a testimony in favour of his vocation as an artist. The man who exposes himself is always alone; for the artist it is the first imperative that he should be capable of ruthless self-exposure and that he should know the ultimate meaning of aloneness. But paradoxical as it may sound, even aloneness has a context and every act of self-exposure assumes an audience. If Souza had chosen to expose himself in India, he might have found that the very ego would come to be tempered by the affliction around him. Just as he might have given his own impassioned voice to that affliction.

Beware, my body and my soul, beware above all of

crossing you arms and assuming the sterile attitude of

the spectator, because life is not a spectacle,

because a sea of sorrows is not a proscenium, because a man who

cries out is not a dancing bear. [35]

These are the words of Aime Cesaire in his poem Return to My Native Land. It is not altogether fanciful to conjecture that Souza might have achieved for himself and his people something like what this great Antillian poet achieved in this poem wherein he prepared himself to return from Paris to Martinique, anticipating, repeating, grounding himself in the agony that he carried as a legacy from his bonded people. In it he worked out his hate for the ugly wounds and for the deathlike lethargy of his people as for the petty boasts, the cruelty and despair of the civilized whites. In that single relentless poem he plunged into his own overwhelming fear to retrieve a possible hope for a new humanity.

...for centuries Europe

has stuffed us with lies and crammed us with plague,

for it is not true that:

the work of man is finished

we have nothing to do in the world

we are the parasites of the world

our job is to keep in step with the world.

The work of man is only just beginning....[36]

Published in Third Text, 3:8-9, 1989, pp.25-64


[1]. This article is from Geeta Kapur's book Contemporary Indian Artists, published by Villas Publishing House PVT Ltd, India, 1978, and is republished with the author's permission.

[2]. "Nirvana of a Maggot," Words of Lines, Villiers, London, 1959, p. 15

[3]. "My Friend and I," ibid., p. 25

[4]. "A Fragment of an Autobiography," ibid., p. 7

[5]. "My Friend and I," ibid., p. 2

[6]. "A Fragment of an' Autobiography," ibid., P-7

[7]. "Nirvana of a Maggot," ibid., pp. 15-16.

[8]. Ibid., pp. 16-17

[9]. F.N. Souza, "The Progressive Artists' Group," Patriot Magaznine, 8 February 1976.

[10]. Statement in Catalogue, Progressive Artisits' Croup Exhibition at Bombay, 7 July 1948.

[11]. "The Progressive Artists' Group," quoted above.

[12]. New Statesman, 25 February 1955.

[13]. Statement in Catalogue, Exhibition at Gallery One, London, 1961.

[14]. New Statesman, 14 December 1957.

[15]. "Notes from My Diary," Words & lines, p. 21.

[16]. Letter to the author (unpublished), 6 November 1974.

[17]. Souza and Barbara Zinkat are now divorced (ed.)

[18]. Edward Mullins, Souza, Blond, London, 1962.

[19]. Letter to the author (unpublished), 6 November 1974.

[20]. Quoted in Muffins, op. cit., p. 70.

[21]. "Notes from My Diary," Words & Lines, p. 20.

[22]. There is a pronounced resemblance in the work of Souza and Padamsee during 1950-52 that is intriguing for the matter of historical chronology.

[23]. Devangana Desai, Erotic Sculpture of India: A Socio-cultural Study. Tata McGrawHill, New Delhi, 1975.

[24]. "My Friend and I," Words & Lines, p. 26.

[25]. Quoted in Catalogue, Exhibition at Dhoomimal Gallery, New Delhi, January 1976.

[26]. The Illustrated Weekly of India, 27 January 1963.

[27]. See Arnold Hauser, Mammerism, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1965.

[28]. Quoted in Mullins, op. cit., p. 82.

[29]. "Notes from My Diary," Words & Lines, p. 20.

[30]. Charles Baudelaire, Intimate Journals, Panther, London, 1969, p. 22.

[31]. Quoted in Mullins, op. cit., p. 75.

[32]. "My Friend and I," Words & Lines, p. 26.

[33]. Jean-Paul Sartre, Baudelaire, Hamish Hamilton, London, 1964, p.38.

[34]. Quoted in Mullins, op. cit., p.59.

[35]. Aime Cesaire, Return to My Native Land (translated by Berger and Bostock), Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1969, p. 50.

[36]. Ibid., p. 85.
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