Krishen Khanna Archives

From: F N Souza

Dated: 6th April 1986

Mr. Motilal Vora,

Chief Minister, Bhopal,

Madhya Pradesh, India

. . . I read the report in the times of India on the tragic Karanth affair headlined, oust Karanth, Vora told.

Swaminathan and Ashok Vajpai must also be ousted from Bharat Bhavan. One is a drunkard with half-baked ideas on art and the other is negligent amounting to corruption. I am an Indian artist and taxpayer in India.

To: Krishen Khanna

Dated: 2nd May 1986

. . .You and I have somehow maintained friendship. Most of my friends now are young, of the younger generation. My own contemporaries, those of my generation, have become fuddy duddies, beyond communication in advanced ideas. But you have nicely tagged along and I am not patronizing at all, it’s simply a matter of the intellectual hierarchy, and who knows, you could be on the top, one day! . . .

From: F N Souza

Dated: 20th May 1986


The Editor

Indian & Foreign Review

137 Shastri Bhavan

New Delhi 110001

Dear Sir,

. . . It’s a pity the I & F R of 15 March had to sink so low by printing an article titled, “The Legend of B.C. Sanyal.” Sanyal may be a legend in his own mind, but during his activities as secretary of the Lalit Kala Akademi, he was nothing but commercial minded.

It’s prejudiced people like Sanyal who blocked the progress of Modern Indian Art which was originated by the Progressive Artists’ Group in 1947 about which the Lalit Kala Akademi never did any documentation simply because many of its members were not Hindus.

From: F N Souza

Dated: 21st May 1986

Ashok Vajpai IAS

Bharat Bhavan

Bhopal, India

Dear Ashok,

Silence won’t save you. Swminathan is also silent. My next moves are to write to several people, including Mr. Lalit Mansingh, Director General ICCR, until I get to your supervisors to have you dismissed or transferred, and Swaminathan removed because of the conflict of interest, he being an artist himself. I know for sure he compares his prices of his paintings with Husian’s, for example; Swaminathan told me so himself. Obviously, as an artist himself, he is envious about other successful painters, and he also has a blind spot on the most influential art movement in this century: Cubism. He has said so himself in print that Picasso’s work means nothing to him. Therefore he is incompetent as a curator of a museum of Contemporary Indian art.

Modern Indian Art is a direct extension of the School of Paris, which died around 1955, but Modern Art survives only in India, done by indian artists, even if they live abroad. The fact is, Modern Art exists in India, fully evolved from the School of Paris, and nowhere else in the world. It’s a strange historical fact. It is therefore obvious, from the statements Swaminathan has made in the press recently that his knowledge of Art is weak. Moreover, as a curator of the Bhopal museum he has simply not done his duty in purchasing the works of important Indian artists in order to give a representative view of Modern Indian Art and its development from the Progressive Artists’ Group. By not doing so, he has denied the public the right to culture. In fact, he is corrupting culture with his prejudiced views of art.

Dated: 24th May 1986

The Modern Indian Art scene as I found it during my recent visit was almost dead until I propped it up with new life and excitement with my Kala Mela show. It even smashed the Triennale!

But what I have discovered is that persons like J. Swaminathan and Ashok Vajpayee are killing Modern Indian Art. There are others too, like K.G. Subramanyan, and there must be those above these guys who are pulling the strings. All these people must be exposed for blocking progress and introducing corruption in the field of culture. I’ll be glad if you join me in this fight against Vajpayee and Swaminathan, the two culprits who are turning Bharat Bhavan into their own bandwagon which is heading towards an absurd directly of folk art and tribal art at the cost of cultivating and promoting Fine Art. . . .

Dated: 29th May 1986

. . . Here is further correspondence on my war against Swaminathan and Vajpayee. War or revolution, I am waging a second revolution in Modern Indian Art, the first being the Progressive Artists’ Group in the 40s. Raza would have never got off from his posterish “monsoon” cityscapes of Bombay a la Langhammer were it not for my inculcating him in aesthetics. He changed his style after my serious talks with him in Bombay and Paris. See my articles on the Progressive Artists’ Group published by K.B. Goel in Patriot, and quoted by Geeta Kapur in her book Contemporary Indian Artists (1978). Husain has declared in print that I am his “mentor”. See Richard Bartholomew’s introduction, Husain, put by Abrahamas, New York (1970). You would have probably become the manager of Grindley’s bank had you not been a groupie of the Progressive Artists’ Group and the tagged along with us. Later you even became a member of PAG and organized shows.

Over the years, the Indian art scene has changed of course, but it has become worse! That’s because some puny minded prejudiced communalists like Swaminathan, Ashok Vajpayee, K.G. Subramanyan, etc, are blocking progress in Modern Indian Art.

. . . These people like Swami, Vajpayee, Subramanyan, and you must be knowing others above these guys who are pulling the strings, are blocking progress by preventing displays of great art - my art, for example, and thus preventing great culture from being seen by the people and disseminated. . . . Ezekiel, Vajpayee, etc., keep my poetry out - I am not invited - when poetry readings are held. But the fact is that my poetry shows a new perspective of the world we live; are these thick skinned prejudiced jerks? . . . They are unfit to be spokesmen of India’s contemporary culture! They must be replaced by smarter people.

. . . Bhupen Khaker expressed his feelings in the Times of India that he was inspired by Souza’s work and thought himself he himself was wasting his time by the kind of stuff he was doing: “Seeing Souza’s work I wonder to what extent can one work emotionally? I paint slowly taking three or four months on one canvas. Am I wasting time, I wonder? Should I work passionately?” Bhupen told the Times of India interviewer, March 3, 1985. My recent show at the Mela, as you know, even rocked the Trienalle by its tremendous impact! And yet Swami did not make a single purchase for the Bhopal Museum from any of these one man shows of mine. Why isthat? Quite obviously he is envious. Any by him being the curator of the Bhopal Museum, as an artist himself, there is a conflict of interest produced by envy which definitely blocks the progress and development of Modern Indian Art. I have seen the work of several artists in Delhi, Jaipur and Bombay and all these artists are doing excellent work but they are frustrated by being left out of the art scene by the likes of Swaminathan, a drunkard who has been placed by Vajpayee with some selfish motives. Raza told everyone that he could not get through to Swaminathan because he was always drunk. What sort of set up is that, placing a drunkard on the cultural scene paid for by the tax payer.

. . . Regarding your paintings on the ceiling of that hotel, I was very impressed. It’s obvious, because of the complicated structure of the beams etc., that it was a difficult task. But I think you did a damn good job of it. In many ways, it’s brilliant. But on the whole, and I am talking about your canvases as well, your imagery is a bit illustrative and tends to be kitschy. With a forward step, induced by pure aesthetics you could easily beat illustrative Kitsch in your work and really produce great and memorable art. You have the stuff of greatness in you. I suspect it’s the same problem as the Australian artists - you have not absorbed great art. Study my paintings and my writings and you will become a great new man, free from ulcers! . . .

From: F N Souza

Dated: 31st May 1986

To Akbar,

. . . Swaminathan is a drunkard and Vajpayee has placed him in museum in order to exploit the situation for his own benefit. I want both these men of the Contemporary Indian art scene, and also K.G. Subramanayan who is distorting it with his folksy hindufication. These guys aren’t using aesthetics. They are using communalism. I am going to originate a second revolution in Modern Indian Art.

From: F N Souza

Dated: 6th June 1986

To Geeta Kapur,

. . . In general, Contemporary Indian Art has become an eye-sore, manipulated by people like Swaminathan, Ashok Vajpai, Shanko Choudhury, K.G. Subramanyan and ilk and reduced to banalities. That’s the real problem. It appears that the above named persons, and there are others who put them in power, have lost sight of aesthetics, and are encouraging Kitsch and daubs.

. . . But institutions like the Lalit Kala Akademi which publish books on artists and hold exhibitions, are run by a prejudiced lot who appear to be bent on Hindufying Indian culture with the banalities of folk art and tribal art. When India’s president, Mr. Zail Singh went to the Bhopal museum, he said of the tribal art exhibited there, “This looks like Modern Art.” And when he saw the works of modern Indian artists, he said, “This looks like deshi (country) art!” Evidently, the works of modern Indian artists collected by Swaminathan, with his half-baked ideas on art, for the Bhopal museum are weak and even tribals are at an advantage! . . .

From: F N Souza

Dated: 7th June 1986

Mr. Motilal Vora

The Honorable Chief Minister


Madhya Pradesh, India

Dear Mr Vora,

In the circumstances of the scandal at Bharat Bhavan, it would be advisable to have government accountants check for embezzlement the books kept by Ashok Vajpai, the Secretary of Bharat Bhavan, and see whether there’s been “creative” bookkeeping or if the books are cooked. He comes often enough to New York on junkets.

It’s not necessary to have an Arun Shourie in every field to expose corruption, is there? Surely the government has the necessary machinery to clean up negligence and corruption.

From: F N Souza

Dated: 9th June 1986

To Mr. R.N. Mirdha,

The scene is now moving to the scandalous goings on at the Bharat Bhawan, Bhopal. I have written to the chief minister of Bhopal, Mr. Motilal Vora, to examine the books for embezzlement because to run a “den of lewdness”, as stated in the enclosed report, would take a lot of money. Vice doesn’t come cheap.

Please refer my correspondence to Mr. Vora and ask him to crack the whip on the wrongdoers and replace them with efficient and honest people.

Dated: 10th June 1986

. . . Swaminathan calls my correspondence “garbage” in a letter to Ashok Vajpai, May 12th, and wants to take “action” by convening a meeting of the Board of Trustees and the Advisory Committee of Roopankar. He then feels guilty and says he’s “ready to resign”.

. . . Bharat Bhawan which has been described in the Times of India report on 28 May as a “den of lewedness.” My letters to the various ministers, Motilal Vora, R.N. Mirdha, and other will have added fuel.

From: F N Souza

Dated: 30th June 1986


The Chief Editor

Indian & Foreign Review

137 Shastri Bhavan

New Delhi 110001, India

Dear Sir,

Since Prof K.G. Subramanyan works at Shantiniketan he’s getting paid to talk about the Bengal School, (I&FR 31 March 86, p 21). But the fact is that Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, etc., were not artists at all. They were clumsy amateurs; they did not know how to draw, they had no idea about the science of colour, and their subject matter was sentimental and confused. They had no style. The Bengal School has had no influence at all on Modern Indian Art. Modern Indian Art was originated by the Progressive Artists’ Group. But Subramanyan, Sankho Chaudhuri and ilk never mention this fact, presumably out of envy. Nor has the Lalit Kala Akademi done any documentation on the Progressive Artists’ Group, the reason being the Group consisted of non Hindus, whereas Subramanyan, Chaudhuri and their gang, including Swaminathan, Ashok Vajpai, etc., from Bhopal, support communalism. Prejudice has entered into Fine Art in India.

From: Souza, 148 West 67th Street, New York, NY 10023, USA

Dated: 12th July 1986

. . .The same blindness exists in the National Museum of Modern Art, Delhi, previously run by prejudiced and jaundiced Bengalis like Purdosh Das, and his friend, another Bengali, Sanyal, ran the Lalit Kala Akademi, and between the both of them, they completely obliterated the ideal the Progressive Artists’ Group had worked for. And there’s a pattern, an ugly one: K.G. Subramanayan who apparently studied in Shantiniketan became the dean of the Baroda Faculty of Fine Art and from there began attacking the Progs.

Ghulam Sheikh was one whofell for Subramanyan’s anti PAG propaganda. Subramanyan is now back at his Shantiniketan roost extolling the “art” of Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose and other third rate dilettantes of the Bengal School.

. . . “Do we need an art movement?” I was surprised you didn’t take a stand against it and write a rejoinder, and ask me, Husian, Raza, etc., to answer Subramanyan’s crummy malicious little broadside against Modern Indian Art which was originated by PAG - no doubt about it at all, now that there is quite a bit of literature on PAG. In fact, Subamanyan is not even mentioned in Geeta Kapur’s Contemporary Indian Artists, (1978), not even in the index. So from where did that upstart appear, so that the Akademi publishes his pamphlets, and the BB gives him money? Ask Mrs Pupul Jayakar - she has put Subramanyan up, one of her puppets. You say the Hindu chavinists are attacking B.B. But what is this promotion of “folk art” and “tribal art” if not Hinduism being supported by the tax payer’s money? There is no such thing as Muslim “folk art”. And as for “tribal art”, I know what’s happening. Government officials get the road workers, etc., give them some art material and Rs 15, per day and take their paintings.

My attack on B.B., on Swaminathan and Vajpai began long before the Karnath Scandal and I believe the forces of Nature brought it about in order to strengthen my attack. And you can’t deny, I have mounted a formidable attack with the flurry of powerful letters I’ve written.

. . . The fact is that you did nothing, knowing that these oafs like Swaminathan, Subramanyan and ilk are distorting the direction of Modern Indian Art which PAG had charted out. Subramanyan’s article in the Heritage quarterly, published by Alkazi, are downright malicious. I pointed out the malicious passages to Alkazi, and he agreed, they were malicious - directed against Husain, a member of PAG - but Elk (Alkazi) said he had not read it before it was published. Then the Lalit Kala Akademi published a nasty little pamphlet by Subramanyan.

. . . If you let it drift this way you can say goodbye to aesthetics. Folk art, tribal art, has no nuances at all, or hardly any. A housewife’s painting falls in the same category. The greater the number of nuances the greater the work of art. Fine Art is called that because it has the most number of nuances. Mrs Pupul Jayaker has been pushing “folk art” because she wrongly believes (1) that it is art, and (2) that it is Indian. In fact, she hates Modern Indian Art, her management of the Indian Festival in New York proves it.

I think you know that I have the greatest respect for you, and admiration for your work. (I have told you that you must boldly take that one step ahead which will kill the illustrative in your painting.)

I think these events are a new phase in your life, and you must use them to your advantage in making your art and your character greater! I am glad to know that you sell as fast as you paint.

. . . However, I believe we can vamp up the situation and create a new and vigorous drive - an extension of PAG and the energy that went into it - so as to produce great art - great sophisticated art - not tribal and folk - of which India will be proud and the world will be amazed. . . .

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