At the dawn of the post-colonial nation-state, artists around the world started coming together to make sense of the changing times. The Lenbachhaus Museum in Munich is currently celebrating this encounter with the “Group Dynamics: The Collectives of the Modernist Period” (from 15th of October 2021 – 24 April 2022), which attempts to showcase key artists’ collectives from around the world. Included are those from Beijing, Tokyo, Kyoto, Khartoum, Nsukka, Lodz, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Casablanca, Bombay (now Mumbai), and Lahore (amongst others). This gigantic show, underscoring the global nature of modernism, is jointly curated by the Lenbachhaus team: everyone from the Director, Matthias Mühling, to its curators Karin Althaus, Susanne Böller, Sarah Louisa Henn, Dierk Höhne, Eva Huttenlauch, Tanja Schomaker and Stephanie Weber were involved in the effort. There were also a host of curatorial experts consulted, whose names include some of the most venerable art historians in the Global South, such as professors Salah M. Hassan (a specialist in African Art History who heads up the Institute for Comparative Modernities at Cornell University) and Nada Shabout, who spoke on the Baghdad Group’s importance for the Lenbachhaus’ Symposium in 2020 in the lead up to the show.
With anti-colonial struggles on the rise and unprecedented mobility afforded by Independence, there was no shortage of subjects for artists’ collectives from burgeoning nations to tackle: complex class relations, the search for national identity, ideas of religion, tradition and technological progress are given visual form in the art on view. Re-presenting Modernism from between 1910 to 1980, the exhibition opts to contextualize each of these aesthetic movements according to their own political, ideological, and social landscapes. Hence, each section functions as an exhibition of its own; driven by its own ‘group dynamics’. For instance, we encounter the Casablanca Group in one gallery, whilst another showcases Beijing’s seminal collective, the Wuming Huahui (No Name) Group, who were active during the Cultural Revolution and whose small format paintings served as covert rebellions. One of the most spectacular is the section dedicated to the Khartoum School, where were encounter an unprecedented range of paintings from the pioneering Sudanese Modernist Ibrahim El-Salahi.
Installation view of the PAG and LAC section of Group Dynamics: Collectives of the Modernist Period at the Lenbachhaus. From left to right: FN Souza’s Untitled (Lovers),1948, stands alone; SH Raza’s Haut de Cagnes, 1951, with Syed Ali Iman’s Untitled (Black Moon),1956. Image Courtesy the Lenbachhaus, Munich.
The curatorial note, on the website, states, “Groups are propelled by steadfast loyalties and irreconcilable ruptures. Their dynamic is unpredictable: collaboration, discussion, conviviality, rivalry, friendship, open-mindedness, inclusion, dissociation, weariness, controversy, love, polemics, and enthusiasm are characteristic features of the lives of groups. They provide us with one possible model for an understanding of art that is not grounded in the individual: art does not come into being in a vacuum, it grows out of exchanges of ideas and social interactions.”
Exhibition view, PAG and LAC section, Group Dynamics—Collectives of the Modernist Period, 2021, Photo: Lenbachhaus Museum, Munich
Installation view of the PAG and LAC section of Group Dynamics: Collectives of the Modernist Period at the Lenbachhaus. The view includes the dividers/ stelae as well as the following pairings from left to right: Ram Kumar & MF Husain (PAG) with Shakir Ali (LAC); SK Bakre (PAG) with Anwar Shemza (LAC); KH Ara (PAG) with Sheikh Safdar Ali (LAC); FN Souza (PAG) with Ahmed Parvez (LAC); FN Souza stands alone; SH Raza (PAG) with Syed Ali Iman (LAC). Image Courtesy the Lenbachhaus, Munich.
Bringing historical parallels into focus, the exhibition presents the Progressive Artist Group (PAG) and Lahore Art Circle (LAC) together. Regarding the architectural design of the room dedicated to PAG and LAC, the section’s curator Eva Huttenlauch observes,
"The exhibition designers developed dif erent and particular architectural elements for every gallery/group. They took a characteristic from every group and transformed it into architecture that is both functional and meaningful at the same time.
In the gallery of the Progressives and Lahore Art Circle, we wanted to match a painting from Lahore and one from Bombay and display them in couples. So, the architects developed stelae and we placed paintings from each Group on opposite sides of the stelae, which both divide and connect. In this way, the stelae are at the same time a conjunctive and disjunctive element. They also help to grant a specific rhythm to the display."
Progressive Artists’ Group was forged by M.F. Husain, F.N. Souza, K.H. Ara, S.H. Raza, S.K. Bakre, H.A. Gade just after Indian Independence (and Partition) in 1947. Their first show was opened by Mulk Raj Anand in 1949, who was a writer for the Progressive Writers’ Association. The group had dissolved by 1956 – Souza and Raza had already left India for Europe in 1949 and 1950 respectively.
The Founding Members of Progressive Artist Group (PAG) in 1949. Front row: F.N. Souza, K.H. Ara and H.A. Gade. Back row: M.F. Husain, S.K. Bakre and S.H. Raza. Courtesy Internet Images
The group’s marriage of Indian aesthetics with international Modernist styles created a unique sense of identity for India. Charged with similar ‘progressive’ fervour, Lahore Art Circle was founded in 1952. It too opposed the stagnant practice of Raj-era British academic realism. The founder-artist of the group, Shakir Ali, came to Pakistan post-partition, in 1951. He had studied under the French Cubist André Lhote in Paris, in whose studio he probably met Ram Kumar, who was an associate of the PAG. While teaching at Lahore’s National College of the Arts, he rallied Ali Imam, Sheikh Safdar Ali, Moyene Najmi, Ahmed Parvez, Anwar Jalal Shemza, Razia Feroze and Miriam Shah to come together as LAC. Under the tutelage of Shakir Ali, the LAC’s members created a new visual language that incorporated elements of Modernist movements,
including Post-impressionism, Cubism and Fauvism, with South Asian themes and motifs. As the Lenbachhaus wall text says: “The goal was to subscribe to international modernism, but without subjecting themselves to specific Western styles. By no means did they seek a uniform mode of representation; rather, they shared basic aesthetic and theoretical convictions.”
PAG and LAC were in contact with each other, irrespective of the political differences between the two nations to which they belonged. LAC’s Syed Ali Iman was the younger brother of PAG’s Syed Haider Raza and the two continued their correspondence across the divides of Partition.
“Raza’s Haut de Cagnes, 1951, and Imam’s Untitled (Townscape—Day), ca. 1956 [. . .] show astonishing parallels in form and content: the black sun in Raza’s work, the black moon in Imam’s, are in each case typical and meaningful symbols in Hindu mythology and Islamic iconography, respectively.”
As part of the initial brainstorming sessions for the show, Zehra Jumabhoy (an Indian art historian) and Samina Iqbal (a Pakistani art historian) have been instrumental in putting together the PAG-LAC section for the exhibition, helping to source works as well as advise on their juxtaposition. This aspect of the show concentrates primarily on the early works of PAG from the 1940s and 1950s – the very works which inspired and echoed cross-border artistic practice in Pakistan’s LAC. Jumabhoy notes: “According to Samina, the LAC was founded in 1952, using the PAG as a blueprint. This exhibition in Munich allowed Samina and me to unite these artists for the first time: Raza is displayed with his brother, Ali Imam – works made almost simultaneously which look like mirror images of each other. We know the two never talked about their work, and that Raza was in France when he made Haut de Cagnes, so there is no way in which Ali Imam could have seen it – yet their styles echo each other as do the black disks that form the sun and moon respectively. The fact that Raza’s work was borrowed from an Indian collector (Dara K. Mehta), whereas Ali Imam’s is courtesy of a Pakistani one (Taimur Hassan) made the collaboration even more poignant for us all. Truly, there are times when art can traverse borders when all other communication seems impossible. I am so grateful to Eva and the Lenbachhaus for making this conversation between our two nations possible."
Syed Haider Raza
Haut De Cagnes, 1951
gouache on paper
Works on Paper
27 x 28.5 in
From the Darashaw Collection, Mumbai, India
UNTITLED (DESERTED TOWN WITH A BLACK SUN), Ca. 1956
Gouache on board
Indistinctly signed in pencil lower right
49.5 x 61 cm
19 1/2 x 24 1/8 in
From the Taimur Hassan Collection in London, UK
Collectives represented in the exhibition:
Artistas del Pueblo, Buenos Aires
Progressive Artists’ Group, Bombay (now Mumbai)
Casablanca School, Casablanca
Grupa "a. r.", Łódź
Grupo dos Cinco, São Paulo
Khartoum School, Khartoum
Kokuga Sosaku Kyokai, Kyoto
Lahore Art Circle, Lahore
Martín Fierro, Buenos Aires
Nsukka School, Nsukka
Wuming Huahui / No Name Group, Beijing
The project is supported by the German Federal Cultural Foundation as part of its program "Global Museum. Collections of the 20th Century from a Global Perspective". Concurrently on view is a second exhibition that opened in the spring of 2021 and is dedicated to the Blue Rider group of artists for which the Lenbachhaus is famous: "Group Dynamics—The Blue Rider", Lenbachhaus, March 23, 2021–March 5, 2023. The Symposium which formed the basis of the brainstorming for the Group Dynamic exhibitions can be seen at
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