“Better had I died, ” wrote Francis Newton Souza about a debilitating childhood bout with smallpox that left his face permanently disfigured, “I would not have had to bear an artists’ tormented soul, create art in a country that will despises her artists and is ignorant of her heritage. ”
The great, relentlessly pioneering artist (1924-2002) wrote those lines in his Fragment of an Autobiography , which was published by Villiers within London in 1959 during difficult years when both money and fame remained mostly elusive. Although that plight did alleviate somewhat – including a singular albeit brief heyday as an acknowledged London luminary alongside masters of the contemporary canon like Lucian Freud plus Francis Bacon – the particular mixed reception on his homeland has never improved, beyond the shallow vagaries of an essentially ignorant artwork marketplace.
That is why, even now, despite any number of auction records, there is no meaningful scholarship to be found anywhere about Souza, and innumerable fakes continue to be attributed to him, in fact constituting the majority of what goes upon sale under his name inside India. This grotesquely shameful charade is cynically, cyclically perpetuated simply by unscrupulous business interests, which in the final analysis comprise almost all of exactly what passes for the desi art world.
If that will be the plight of Souza, whose paintings are internationally celebrated, on permanent display at the particular Tate Modern in London and National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi, plus regularly snapped up by international collectors for prices that long ago crested above the benchmark associated with a million dollars, what about everyone else? Have we progressed at all from what this son of Saligao, Goa, and the particular Crawford Market neighborhood associated with Bombay complained about, or do all of us still despise our artists and ignore our history?
Here, even the most wide-eyed optimist must concede the report card is usually notably poor. Indian artwork has established a fairly robust marketplace in the high end – thus the fetish for Souza and their contemporaries, actually if the paintings are conspicuously dubious – but we have almost no catalogue raisonnés, and only a handful of serious retrospectives have ever been held for even the majority of celebrated performers. That vacuum of understanding allows anyone to mouth any kind of absurd gibberish, and get away with it. This is definitely how the particular committed desh bhakt M. F. Husain became tarred with patently ridiculous slurs and then forced into exile in the UAE, and also explains how and the reason why the unwaveringly hard-edged modernist Vasudeo Gaitonde is being steadily repositioned in to some kind of woolly-headed quasi-spiritual mystic.
Understanding the extent of this particular uniformly pathetic scenario, presently there is perhaps some cold comfort to be derived through the happenstance of an even earlier pioneer’s work remaining so totally unknown that will it has not yet already been perverted. This is the curious case of Angelo da Fonseca, whose magnificent oeuvre was created in yawning obscurity that only deepened further after his death in 1967.
Misunderstood, misrepresented, and purposefully ignored throughout the intervening decades, the main body of his paintings somehow survived intact via the extraordinary faith, courage and determination of their widow, the particular indomitable Ivy da Fonseca. Emerging now in the light of the 21st century, it is amply clear these works of art are of immense global significance. What is more, their publication in this meticulously compiled and lovingly produced volume (see angelofonseca. com) feels nothing short of miraculous. Out associated with nowhere, inside an astonishing twist of fate, it seems justice will finally become served in order to Indian art history, more than 50 many years after the artist himself departed our world.
How did this particular staggering lacuna occur in the first place? Why do Fonseca’s irresistibly gorgeous paintings disappear so thoroughly from our collective understanding that even the particular nearly-1, 000-page Encyclopaedia associated with Visual Artwork of Maharashtra – which usually lists hundreds of musicians – fails to record even an inkling their presence? The brief answer is that there have been several layers of bigotry at work, starting along with the fatally flawed worldwide backdrop, because Dr . Rupert Arrowsmith has described in his invaluable Modernism and the Museum: Asian, African, plus Pacific Art and the London Avant-Garde (Oxford University Press, 2011).
Arrowsmith lays out the particular problem on the very first page: “There is a problem with the study of Modernism as a global phenomenon. Histories associated with the period have been written, until very recently, by scholars with little or simply no knowledge of the culture provinces other than their own, resulting in a situation where the dots of apparently discrete geographical regions are not really adequately connected by lines of influence. ”
These blind spots possess “led to a distorted view associated with Modernism since essentially a good European invention, with comparable movements on other parts from the globe characterized as imitative of ‘advanced’ artwork and literature in Europe, or – paradoxically – as reactionary and propagandistic. The possibility of multi-directional, transnational exchange in aesthetic concepts, art-historical knowledge, and literary plus artistic technique is thus discounted, played down, or even at best acknowledged within tentative and misleading ways. ”
That sweeping failure of international (read: Western) scholarship was gravely compounded in India after 1947, when an urgent – yet wrong-headed, plus ultimately destructive – revisionism swept aside and covered up the complex landscape associated with modernism in India within favour of the Tagores and their own “Bengal Renaissance. ” Unsubtly excluded from this lobotomized “nationalist” art history was the spectacular cultural wellspring of the entire west coast, but especially the particular parade associated with extraordinary artists from Goa who flooded to and through colonial and mid-20th-century Bombay in order to constitute what Ranjit Hoskote has eloquently described because “an invisible river, one that offers fed into the wider flow of Indian art yet has not always been recognised as therefore doing. ”
In his superb curatorial essay for Aparanta: The Confluence of Contemporary Artwork in Goa , the landmark 2007 group exhibition around the waterfront of Panjim which marked the return of Fonseca to prominence within the social fabric of his homeland (and furthermore served to save the particular lovely 19th century Old Goa Medical College campus from being co-opted into a shopping mall) Hoskote explained some associated with the causes of this dissonance: “Goa’s special historic evolution, with its Lusitanian route to the Enlightenment plus print modernity, its Iberian emphasis upon a vibrant public sphere, the pride in its ancient internationalism avant la lettre , sets it at a tangent to the self-image of the India that has been formed with the experience of British colonialism as its basis. The relationship between Goa’s performers and mainland India has, not surprisingly, already been ambiguous and erratic, even unstable. ”
It is a strange, oftentimes surreal predicament. From its inception in 1878, the paradigm-shifting Sir JJ School associated with Art has been sought out by vastly disproportionate numbers of Goans (as were other institutions set up in colonial Bombay at the same time, notably the particular Grant Healthcare College). By the turn from the 20th century, the great pioneer Antonio Xavier Trindade – the heavily feted “Rembrandt of the East” – had been one associated with its first Indian faculty members, plus streams of his countryfolk followed in the wake.
It is important to note that will most of this grand artistic legacy offers been either purposefully removed from the particular record, or deliberately co-opted into sketchy narratives that efface their particular origins. This is because of a grand overarching prejudice, because the Goa-Bombay artists always been irredeemably heterogeneous. Souza’s cohort was defiantly scruffy compared in order to the Shantiniketan bhadralok : Husain painted billboards, Ara was the houseboy. The particular very existence of these kinds of Indians has been treated as an affront to Indian art history, and there can end up being no doubt the establishment would have preferred to erase them from your consciousness altogether. It surely would have got happened too, if it experienced not been for increasingly wealthy non-resident Indians, and their outsized impact on the particular 21st century artwork marketplace.
These are all-important cultural fault lines – and here we must remember that each Souza plus Gaitonde passed away in effective penury only two years ago – but right now there is plenty of culpability that is shared simply by Goa as well. Goans massively compounded the art historical crime that will Souza pointed out way back in 1959, as both state and society have got displayed an unimaginably cavalier disregard with regard to our own heritage, in an astonishing abdication of responsibility that provides few rivals anywhere in the world. Despite being the particular inheritors associated with an unrivalled artistic legacy that extends millennia, right to the dawn of mankind in this particular part of the world, the average Goan student learns exactly zero about this birthright. Even worse, the government has done nothing to rectify the particular crisis, plus compiled no permanent collection to speak of, while also neglecting in order to constitute the museum framework required to properly screen and explain the few meagre scraps it has managed to retain after generations of despoilation (for example, the Kala Academy’s small trove of excellent Gaitonde canvases continues to be “missing” for the past two decades).
In this giant mess, which shows no sign whatsoever associated with being resolved, the existence of the best part of Angelo da Fonseca’s oeuvre poses an epic challenge, as well as its potential resolution. This particular ultimate bridge figure, who was born directly into an aristocratic Luso-Indian family but spent most of his life in happy anonymity within a spartan ashram in Poona from the 1930s onwards, whose artwork has usually fallen between the cracks since too Indian native for rigidly Eurocentric Catholics and as well Christian regarding nationalism-blinkered Indians, has already been retrieved through the ash-heap of background at precisely the most promising juncture, into an era that appears poised to understand and appreciate his brilliant paintings for the same exact reasons that our own grandparents found them hard to digest. This can be a bolt of lightning that commands the rewriting of almost all of our ethnic notions. Here is the universal master, and India’s most important early modernist.
The story associated with Angelo de uma Fonseca is inextricably intertwined using the profoundly confluential history of Goa. His ancestral roots are on the historic island of Santo Estêvão – aka Santo Estevam or Jua – in which the story is certainly told that his father and mother kept losing their children in infancy, totalling a good agonizing six or seven babies a row. Then, advised by an old-timer, they acceded to pre-conversion traditions and paid tribute to an ancestral temple within the hinterland. After that will gesture, they were blessed with a number of children who dis survive, including the particular preternaturally talented youngest son, whom – in the tradition of well-to-do Goans associated with the time – they sent off to study across the border in British India.
Fonseca left home at no more than seven or even eight years of age, heading initial to the St . Paul’s School in Belgaum – where there were many other Goans — and later rooted themselves, with consequential future implications, in the particular bigger plus more essential cantonment city of Poona from St. Vincent’s School. After graduation, he first tried becoming the physician with Grant Medical College (where he has been singled out intended for excellence in drawing within his Anatomy class) but then gave it up to join the JJ School of Art.
All along, the artist recalls in his quirky, fascinating Indo-Christian Art in Painting and Statuary: A Historical Retrospect , that was published by St Xavier’s College in 1953, he harboured an overwhelming ambition: “since my creative instinct began to develop; and [I became aware of] the great variety of the particular artistic production that has sprung below the encouragement of the Church just about all the globe over – from the particular frescoes associated with the Catacombs of purely Roman inspiration down in order to the statuary of the Gothic cathedrals plus the great Masters from the Renaissance time period – [they] could not really but be contrasted with the bad stereotyped specimens we constantly saw within the churches in our country. ”
Fonseca explains at some length, simply no less passionately for it being a flawed and decidedly dubious argument: “A Renaissance building under the sun of Indian, having the now-clad Himalayas on its background, looks incongruous to say the particular least, something unwholesome and morbid, if compared along with the lofty specimens of our ancient religious architecture that try to emulate the high peak associated with Mount Meru or the majestic slopes of Kailasha. Why could not the particular Catholic Church find herself at house in Of india, since she is really Catholic, i. e. universal, Indian inside India as she is European within Europe. ”
Later in that meandering essay, the artist etches out exactly what sounds like his personal manifesto: “The Indian Catholic has generally been brought up about products of the West – very cheap and unartistic products on that, as a general rule – and consequently our art is strange to your pet. But if the priests introduce the particular art of India within our churches, the layman will naturally take it in order to his home. But we all artists must make an effort to produce real devotional pictures, plus not merely to put a halo behind the head associated with a beautiful woman or inscribe the label at the foot of an ordinary man. Let therefore devotion be the substratum of inspiration, and that fostered by the breezes that descend from your lofty Himalayas. ”
By this point, Fonseca got suffered mightily for his convictions. Right after heading home to Goa, he discovered himself the object associated with severe opprobrium for painting ostensible “holy pictures” that were vastly different from those peddled by the particular colonial church. He had been shaken, fled back to the city where he had invested happy schooldays, and took up residence in the austere, high-minded Christa Prema Seva Sangha in Poona that acquired been founded by the particular Anglican minister John “Jack” Winslow just a few years earlier in 1927. The patrician Goan was happy there amongst well-educated (indeed, often aristocratic) Englishmen seeking to understand India, and was eventually given charge of its grounds. Even after marrying, he would come back every day to work presently there, often in the company of his close friends from Goa, the excellent poet B. B. “Bakibab” Borkar and the nationalist priest, Rev. Hubert Olympio Mascarenhas.
When he had first fled to Poona, there was no one otherwise quite like Fonseca, but by 1953 a number of other musicians had followed in the footsteps within the vein of “Indian Christian” imagery, even if very few experienced the depth or originality of their work. He does note that “Joseph Pereira is a budding artist of great promise” adding that will “it will be a pity that this individual leans more towards the West than to the East. His paintings at times are usually left unfinished. He should be more Native indian in his composition plus even in this technique. ” This is an important intersection from our standpoint, because Joseph is better known to us as Dr. José Pereira, the amazing polymath with a relentlessly taxonomical bent. Towards the particular end of the latter’s life, the US-based scholar gave us an acute analysis of how Fonseca fits into art history. Since it is unpublished, and otherwise unavailable, I am quoting it in length right here for the benefit of future college students.
First among non-Westerners, Goans adopted Western political institutions, like the parliamentary republic, independent nationhood (predicated on cultural identity), anti-colonial insurgence, and politics party. They took over scientific disciplines, like botany, medicine, linguistics, and background, as they were practiced in the particular West. These people pioneered in writing in Western languages, and in Western literary genres. They will embraced Western music, Traditional western architecture, religious and domestic, and artwork. Architecture in Goa reached heights associated with excellence, but not painting. From the start and to get long Goan painters continued to be fixated upon the works of the Flemish Renaissance.
Bengal has been Westernized, successfully, from the Uk. As Bengal waxed, Goa waned; inside the nineteenth cent. It reached the particular nadir from the fortunes. Yet all was not lost pertaining to India’s western. To the north of Goa had been a group of islands – below Portuguese rule but transferred to the particular
British : known because Bombay. This group developed into the metropolis that boasted being the first city in India. This embodied the Westernization that will had been initiated within Goa earlier and has been its mighty new avatar. From the 19th century the particular Bombay-Bengal dichotomy had been fixed, and was to condition the rise of modern American indian art.
Reacting to the imposition of illusionism in the artwork schools the indigenist (or orientalist) revival – the particular movement in order to create a nationalistic art not imitative of European countries but continuous with India’s past – was begun under Western mentors. In 1819 the murals associated with Ajanta, the cluster of 5th hundred years Buddhist rock-cut monasteries in the Deccan, hidden within the jungle for centuries, were re-discovered by a British army officer. Ajanta soon became a model meant for all Of india artists to imitate. E. B. Havell (1861-1934), director of the particular Government School of Art in Calcutta, encouraged Indian native students in order to develop a truly Indian artwork inspired with the creations from the past.
One associated with Havell’s students was Abanindranath Tagore (1871-1966), the archpriest of orientalism, as well as the founder of the orientalizing Bengal College. A leading member of the School was Nandalal Bose (1882-1966), pupil of Abanindranath and teacher of Angelo da Fonseca. Fonseca, avid indigenist, that belonged to the area of Bombay’s impact (as did the realist Angela Trindade) crossed over to the a lot more nationalistic Bengal and grew to become the disciple of Nandalal, so assuring Bengal’s victory; Angela continued unperturbed inside her academic ways, immured in Bombay’s realist fortress.
In Nandalal the Bengal school arrived at its climax; through their intervention in the contest between Bombay and Bengal, Bengal has been victorious. The weapon that assured his success had been an eclectic vocabulary – a conflation of forms and techniques from every source in the subcontinent, beginning with the fifth century murals of Ajanta, and continuing with the particular palm-leaf plus paper manuscripts and the cloth paintings associated with Tibet, Nepal, Orissa, Rajasthan and Bengal, however, decals of Sigiriya in Ceylon: nothing “indigenous” or “oriental” was excluded, not even Persian and Mughal and Chinese and Japanese paintings. Only European realism was taboo. This panoply arrayed against the Western suited Fonseca admirably in his efforts to create a wholly indigenist Christian iconography.
This particular iconography was your one dimension lacking to Nandalal’s indigenist universalism, and it was the dimension that Fonseca provided. Christian iconography within the 19th century was influenced by what is known as the “Saint-Sulpice art, ” after a Parisian church of that name. The most characteristic features of this art were mass-produced, plaster-cast and terracotta statues, with saccharine and mindless expressions, probably intended in order to represent spiritual ecstasy. Pain and suffering were ruled out, at least through the saints and Virgins. They had been invariably healthy and sexless.
Originating in the particular primal hub of Westernization, Goa, plus resisting the allure of its Westernizing successor Bombay, the center of illusionist painting, Fonseca, attracted by universalizing indigenism of the particular Bengal School, though themself from the Bombay area of influence, capitulated to the style of that College and added his personal contribution associated with an Indianized Christian iconography. In other words, Fonseca’s originality of indigenist form, derived from his instructor Nandalal, combined with his own original indigenist Christian iconography, mark him as an all-India figure straddling the two schools, Bombay and Bengal.
Pereira – whom I was lucky to get to know well in the particular last decade of their life – was a good inveterate encyclopaedist. He categorized and catalogued everything within meticulous – indeed obsessive – detail, and we are eternally indebted that will his lens returned frequently to Goan culture in different dimensions: music, language, structures, art. This individual wrote this particular assessment (which he told me later was “ironclad”) associated with Fonseca from what we now realize was nearly the last possible moment, simply a few months before he passed away in New York at 84. It had been nearly five decades since the older Goan performer had himself succumbed to meningitis in Poona and all those intervening yrs had whizzed by uneventfully, until the thunderclap decision simply by Ivy da Fonseca in order to gather all of her late husband’s artworks from three or four separate locations in the city right now renamed Pune, and drive them down to Goa in 2006, with the particular understanding these people would be available to students and on permanent display in the Xavier Centre of Historical Research.
It was an earthquake moment, even though proper reverberations have not already been felt from it for many years. Within today’s gentle, the art are flat out undeniable. The reality of their existence presents a luminously intense riposte to all the conventional wisdom about what lies with the heart of our own collective identity since Goans, Indians, and inheritors of multiple cultural strands that encompass the world. Whenever they 1st arrived within Goa, numerous important cultural visitors came to view them including pilgrims: Orhan Pamuk, Amitav Ghosh, Dayanita Singh, Vikram Seth. Artwork scholars furthermore showed up, including Rupert Arrowsmith, whom I invited to India specifically to view this archive, after which he agreed that it’s “time to look at Fonseca again, and in order to recognize your pet as a cosmopolitan artist fully at home within the eclectic, transcultural landscape of Indian Modernism. ”
One especially significant reaction was through Paulo Varela Gomes, the particular late architectural historian who else did an excellent job in two terms as the Goa delegate of the Lisbon-based Fundação Oriente .
Goans have a special interest in awakening Indian plus international attention to Angelo da Fonseca’s importance as he was one of Goa’s more significant twentieth-century artists. But there is some thing else at stake here, something of far greater consequence than regional pride or identity. Some associated with the drawings and works of art by Fonseca—those with Christian subject matter, perhaps his more engaging works—directly bring to the particular fore the political, religious and social concerns from the early twenty-first century in a manner that is unavoidable designed for those interested in the role played by art within society. Fonseca’s art deals with ecumenical ideals, with the particular necessity of dialogue among ‘civilisations’ and religions, the dramatically-pressing topic for our times. It also deals with the place of Christianity in Indian and in Indian history, an issue that has lately given increase to episodes of violence and persecution and is usually paralleled simply by other unfortunate instances of intolerance and brutality between communities in Of india and elsewhere. This should draw immediate plus urgent scholarly attention to Fonseca’s art.
Simply by happy circumstance, and then within adulthood by purposeful design, the story associated with Fonseca is definitely intertwined along with mine on multiple junctures going back 100 years towards the British Raj and St . Vincent’s School in Poona. My maternal grandfather William Xavier Mascarenhas (whose our ancestors roots are in Porvorim) has been his classmate and good friend from individuals years, as well as the two stayed steadfastly loyal to each other in spite of one becoming something like a recluse on the Anglican ashram, and the some other being catapulted into the top job at their alma mater, the storied Engineering University in which he became the first “native” Indian principal in 1938. There are lovely stories exceeded down in our families about how the many important international visitors to that institution were handled to a grand Luso-Indian meal cooked simply by Fonseca himself – who was known as an outstanding chef – during which the particular artist might join the gathering.
The few years after the designer died, my parents spent some many years in Poona (it just became Pune in 1978) where I had been blessed to have Ivy da Fonseca while my very first teacher. She taught me to read in really pleasant school years that will remained indelibly rooted in my consciousness because much of what remained of the schooling within India had been distinctly unhappy. Much later on, after Ivy and I had reconnected, and she got begun in order to spend time in Goa to try and assist the particular XCHR inside creating the promised centre of scholarship or grant for the girl husband’s artworks, we were honoured that she attended the baptism of my youngest son, to whom I was proud to give the name Angelo. All through those yrs more compared to a decade ago, the particular author of this book and I worked extremely happily together to achieve our mission to keep our promise in order to Ivy plus ourselves, secure in the confidence that this good artist’s work would not carry on to languish so unconscionably.
Sadly, this did not happen. Our path was disrupted, after that wilfully diverted. Fonseca has been wrenched from our lives, and the bitter truth is an additional generation associated with Goans offers proceeded to pass all the particular way through school without an suspicion of this particular great artist’s very real value to their lives. Only a few understood what was on the line, and for them it rankled very deeply. Amongst these was our late mother Naomi Mascarenhas e Menezes, the daughter of W. X. Mascarenhas and niece of H. O. Mascarenhas, who never failed in order to enquire right after this important unfinished company, literally right until her voice was finally extinguished.
What the pity my mother in no way lived to see this moment, when Fonseca has once more risen utterly improbably out of nowhere to command our interest. Fittingly enough, that story is writ small within the specific history of the painting on the cover of this handsome volume. 1st painted just for display in church, it was discarded by know-nothings which contended it had been not suitable: not European enough, not really Christian sufficient, far too Goan, far too Indian native. Later, whenever entrusted to the Xavier Centre, Delio de Mendonça cleaned it upward with his very own hands, plus ever since then – also through the distance of Rome – he or she has carried on to toil in Fonseca’s name with tremendous humility and rare devotion. The result, in the view, can be impressive beyond measure. We must be very grateful to him and Gerard da Cunha for this particular landmark distribution. Viva Fonseca!
Excerpted along with permission through Fonseca by Delio de Mendonça. Architecture Autonomous.