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One Man exhibition and subsequent trial, Akbar Padamsee

  • Name (text):

    One Man exhibition and subsequent trial, Akbar Padamsee

    Word Count: 8

  • Name:
    One Man exhibition and subsequent trial, Akbar Padamsee
  • Alternative names:

    One Man exhibition of Akbar Padamsee at Jehangir Art Gallery, Bombay with subsequent court case for alleged “obscene” paintings

  • Kind of Event:
    Court Case
  • Start Date:
    29-04-1954
  • End Date:
    04-05-1954
  • Introduction:

    Akbar Padamsee’s solo exhibition in Bombay in 1954 was overshadowed by his arrest on charge of displaying obscene pictures. The subsequent court case drew support from across the art world.

    Word Count: 30

  • Content:

    Akbar Padamsee  (1928–2020) was a pioneering modernist artist. His formal artistic language was based on an interplay between line and form. While many of his early works were concerned with the human body, Padamsee also worked on cityscapes and spatial renderings with architectural forms strung together.
    Padamsee was trained at Bombay’s J.J. School of Art (1948–1951). There he spent most of his time in the library, reading books on theory and Chinese painting. This was the time when the Progressive Artists Group (PAG) was formed and he interacted with its members. Padamsee also knew the Central European émigrés Emanuel Schlesinger, Walter and Käthe Langhammer and Rudi von Leyden. He did not think highly of Langhammer and in fact even considered that he was a bad painter.
    Padamsee was one of many South Asian artists who headed to Paris in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Unlike others, though, he did not attend any of the art schools and instead used his time in Paris focusing on work and gaining maximum cultural exposure. During this time, his work was characterised by strong outlines and a pronounced two-dimensionality.
    In 1954, shortly after his return to Bombay, Akbar Padamsee held his first solo exhibition at Jehangir Art Gallery. The Jehangir Art Gallery had only opened in 1952 and made a huge contribution to the Bombay art world. Within this exhibition, Padamsee’s mainly figurative paintings of male and female heads and torsos, male and female nudes, and cityscapes were initially received favourably. One day after the opening, however, his paintings Lovers I (1952) and Lovers II (1952) attracted negative attention and were censored by the authorities. When the artist refused to take the paintings down, he was arrested. He was released on bail that same day. The two paintings that caused all the fuss showed a male figure touching the breast of a female figure. The court case that followed set a precedent in India, with supporters such as Karl Khandalawala,  Rudi von Leyden, and others presenting expert testimonies which brought the court to judge in favour of the artist. Marg printed the entire judgement in its September issue the following year (Marg vol. 7, no. 4, September 1954, 90f). The art historical references that were used in the trial to to explain Padamsee’s artistic intentions and build a defence on behalf of the artist drew on classical Western art as well as on Indian art such as the erotic sculptures at Khajuraho.
    Akbar Padamsee’s case was argued along the lines and the idea of artistic autonomy and thereby defended modernist art in India successfully. Four decades later, M.F. Husain became the target of right-wing Hindu groups whose campaigns culminated in 2006 with threats of violence and legal prosecution. In Husain’s case, as in Padamsee’s, judgment was ruled in favour of the artist and against the charges of obscenity. However, the 1954 court case and Padamsee's nine-month fight for the right to paint and exhibit freely, left a mark on the artist which caused him to return to Paris.

    Word Count: 504

  • Signature Image:
    Invitation Akbar Padamsee Solo Show 29.04–4.05.1954, Jehangir Art Gallery (Courtesy of Bhanumati Padamsee, Akbar Padamsee Archive, Vinayak Aangan, Mumbai).
  • Media:
    Solo show at Jehangir Art Gallery from 29 to 4 May 1954. (Courtesy of Bhanumati Padamsee, Akbar Padamsee Archive, Vinayak Aangan, Mumbai).
    Akbar Padamsee, Lovers, 1952, 157.5 x 81.3 cm, oil on board (Courtesy of Bhanumati Padamsee, Akbar Padamsee Archive, Vinayak Aangan, Mumbai).
    Akbar Padamsee, Lovers I, 1952, 136 x 110 cm, oil on board (Courtesy of Bhanumati Padamsee, Akbar Padamsee Archive, Vinayak Aangan, Mumbai).
    Akbar Padamsee, Lovers II, 1953, 121.92 x 60.96 cm, oil on canvas. (Courtesy of Bhanumati Padamsee, Akbar Padamsee Archive, Vinayak Aangan, Mumbai).
    Newspaper report, “Artist arrested for displaying obscene pictures”, The Times of India, 2 May, 1954 (Courtesy of Bhanumati Padamsee, Akbar Padamsee Archive, Vinayak Aangan, Mumbai).
    Newspaper report, “Alleged Obscene Paintings Given Back to Artist”, The Indian Express, 4 May, 1954 (Courtesy of Bhanumati Padamsee, Akbar Padamsee Archive, Vinayak Aangan, Mumbai).
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Dalmia, Yashodhara. “Akbar Padamsee.” Idem. Journeys: Four generations of Indian artists in their own words, vol. 1. Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 101–117.

    “Judgment in the Trial of Akbar Padamsee for Alleged 'Obscene' Paintings”, Marg, vol. 7, no. 4, September 1954, pp. 90–91.

    Padamsee, Bhanumati, and Annapurna Garimella, editors. akbar padamsee: work in language. Marg publications, 2010.

    Wille, Simone. “Die künstlerische Moderne und vernachlässigte Initiativen.“ Kunstforum International, vol. 252, February–March 2018, pp. 94–101.

    Word Count: 65

  • Archives and Sources:

    Archival records from a series of personal interviews between the author and the artist, Mumbai, July 2017 (Private Archive Simone Wille, Wien).

    Akbar Padamsee Archive, Vinayak Aangan, Mumbai.

    Word Count: 27

  • Author:
    Simone Wille
  • Participants (selection):

    Akbar Padamsee

    Word Count: 2

  • Exhibited Objects:

    Etchings, paintings (oil on canvas):  Lovers I, 1952; Lovers II , 1952; works on paper (charcoal on paper), newspaper reports.

    Word Count: 17

  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    Court of the Presidency Magistrate, 16th Court, Esplanade, Bombay (now, Azad Maidan Police Club, 78/1, Badaruddin Tayabji Marg, Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus Area, Fort Dhobi Talao).

  • Metropolis:
    Bombay
  • Entry in process:
    no
  • Simone Wille. "One Man exhibition and subsequent trial, Akbar Padamsee." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/2951/object/5141-11941874, last modified: 07-09-2021.
  • Open Studio Evenings by Käthe and Walter Langhammer
    Salon

    The painter Walter Langhammer and his wife Käthe built an informal infrastructure to promote local avant-garde artists and regularly invited them to Open Studio Evenings at their studio.

    Word Count: 29

    Open evening at the Langhammer’s, from left: Walter Langhammer, unknown woman, Kekoo Gandhy, Wayne Hartwell (American cultural affairs diplomat) n.d. (© Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz; authorised by the late Kekoo Gandhy; All Rights Reserved).
    Dinner party at the Langhammer’s studio amidst his paintings (© Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz; authorised by the late Kekoo Gandhy; All Rights Reserved).Käthe and Walter Langhammer (far left) attending an Indian dinner, late 1930s/early 1940s (© Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz; authorised by the late Kekoo Gandhy; All Rights Reserved).Opening of the annual Langhammer exhibition by Sir Cowasjee Jehangir in the Convocation Hall, 27 November 1949 (from left: Mr. C.V. Oak, Rani Maharaj Singh, Walter Langhammer, Sir Cowasjee Jehangir, Käthe Langhammer) (© Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz; authorised by the late Kekoo Gandhy; All Rights Reserved).Photography Morning in the Great Mosque in Ajmer (translation by the author) by Käthe Langhammer, Rajasthan, 1940s (© Archive Margit Franz: Langhammer Photo Archive; All Rights Reserved).Käthe Langhammer in South India. They toured all of India for The Times of India Annual. Photo by Walter Langhammer (© Archive Margit Franz: Langhammer Photo Archive; All Rights Reserved).Invitation card for the Langhammers’ farewell party, April 1957 (© Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz; authorised by the late Kekoo Gandhy; All Rights Reserved).Entrance to Langhammer’s residence at 20 Nepean Sea Road (Photo: Margit Franz, 2007; All Rights Reserved).
    Bombay
    TIFR
    University / Higher Education Institute / Research Institute

    The TIFR is one of India’s premier scientific institutions. Inside its buildings, scientists ponder over path-breaking ideas. Also, within its hallowed walls is a fine collection of modern Indian art.

    Word Count: 31

    The TIFR building (Photo: Ananya Dasgupta, 2021).
    The TIFR premises and gardens (Photo: Ananya Dasgupta, 2021).Colonnade on the way to the TIFR entry (Photo: Ananya Dasgupta, 2021).Outside view of the TIFR foyer with the mural Bharat Bhagya Vidhata by M.F. Husain, 1963 (Photo: Ananya Dasgupta, 2021).
    Bombay
    Rudolf von Leyden
    GeologistAdvertisement SpecialistJournalistArt CriticArt CollectorCartoonist

    The advertisement expert, Rudolf von Leyden, became a major art critic and art historian in Bombay in the 1940s, advocating an urgent need for modernism in art in post-colonial India.

    Word Count: 30

    Rudolf and Nena von Leyden’s farewell party for Francis Newton. Showing all members of the Progressive Artists’ Group. Front from left: PAG = M.F. Husain, S.K. Bakre, H.A. Gade, K.H. Ara, F.N. Souza, S.H. Raza with writer Mulk Raj Anand (1st right front). Back: Käthe Langhammer (with lace collar dress), Rudolf von Leyden with his wife Nena (centre), Walter Langhammer (2nd right), Ebrahim Alkazi (theatre pioneer, 1st right back), Bombay 1949. (© Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes; All Rights Reserved).
    Letterhead of The Hand. Commercial Art Studio Rudolf von Leyden, 1934 (© Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes; All Rights Reserved).Advertisement for Agfa by Rudolf von Leyden (© Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes; All Rights Reserved).Bombay Art Society Committees 1952/53, reprinted in Bombay Art Society 62th Annual Exhibition 1952–53 (at Jehangir Art Gallery), Bombay 1952, n.p. (Photo: Margit Franz 2021).Two modernists meet: Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (left) and Rudolf von Leyden (right), 1950s. (© Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes; All Rights Reserved).The article by Rudolf and Nena von Leyden “Ganjifa, the Playing Cards of India” (Marg, vol. 3, no. 4, 1949, p. 36; reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).Indian President Zakir Husain (left), President of India, opened the first Triennial for contemporary art on 10 February 1968 in the Lalit Kala Gallery in New Delhi. In the picture on the left with jury member Rudolf von Leyden (right). (© Private Archive James von Leyden, Lewes; All Rights Reserved).
    Bombay
    Emanuel Schlesinger
    Factory OwnerTechnical DirectorArt CollectorArt Critic

    The art collector Schlesinger provided primarily financial aid by creating working opportunities for young artists in post-independence Bombay, and initiated the corporate culture of buying art.

    Word Count: 26

    Opening of the Raza exhibition, first row from left: Unknown, S.H. Raza, Käthe Langhammer, Rudolf von Leyden, second row from left: Walter Langhammer, K.H. Ara, Emanuel Schlesinger, 1948 (Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz, authorized by the late S.H. Raza © Raza archive; All Rights Reserved).
    Letter from Emanuel Schlesinger (Bombay) to S. H. Raza (Paris), September 1956, on official INDON letterhead paper (Reprinted from: Vajpeyi 2013, 96; Image courtesy: The Raza Foundation).Emanuel Schlesinger (far left, seated in the first row) at the opening of the Chemould Gallery at Jehangir Art Gallery Main Hall, September 1963 (Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz © Gandhy Archive, Mumbai; All Rights Reserved).Early Raza painting Street Scene in Bombay from Schlesinger Collection as a calendar print (Photo: Margit Franz 2010; All Rights Reserved).
    Bombay
    Marg. A Magazine of Architecture and Art
    Magazine

    Local and exiled creatives formed the Modern Architectural Research Group to publish a progressive journal of art and architecture in Bombay from 1946 onwards.

    Word Count: 23

    Cover of the first issue, detail (Marg, vol. 1, no. 1, 1946, reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).
    Cover of the first issue (Marg, vol. 1, no. 1, 1946, reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).Advert MARG means Pathway (Marg, vol. 1, no. 2, 1947, p. 110; reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).Editors’ page of the first Marg issue (Marg, vol. 1, no. 1, 1946, p. 1; reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).Excerpt from “Architecture and You” (Marg, vol. 1, no. 1, 1946, p. 10; reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).A collage of exiles’ contributions to Marg (All images reproduced with the permission of The Marg Foundation, Mumbai, India).Editorial “Planning and Dreaming.” (Marg, vol. 1, no. 1, 1946, p. 4f).
    Bombay
    Iconic Photo of the Progressive Artists’ Group and Their Associates
    Photograph

    There are two versions of the PAG photo at the opening of M.F. Husain's first solo exhibition in 1950 (published in 1996 and 2003) and two narratives about the opening.

    Word Count: 28

    The iconic photo of the Progressive Artists’ Group and their associates, 1950 (Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz © Gandhy Archive, Mumbai; All Rights Reserved). First row: (seated, from left) Dr. Mulk Raj Anand, Siloo Bharucha, Renu Khanna, K.H. Ara, M.F. Husain (in black headgear, seated in front of everyone else), Bal Chhabda, unknown, G.M. Hazarnis (holding folder). Second row: (seated, from left) unknown, unknown, Laxman Pai, Käthe Langhammer (black dress with white framed collar), Emanuel Schlesinger. Third row: (standing, from left) Dr. Percy Brown, Khorshed Gandhy, T.A. Schinzel (behind Mrs. Gandhy), Krishen Khanna (in striped tie), Sadanand Bakre (with glasses, just behind Khanna), D.G. Kulkarni (with glasses, near Bakre), V.S. Gaitonde (to Kulkarni’s left), A.A. Amelkar, Tyeb Mehta, Shiavax Chavda (with hands folded), Walter Langhammer (in dark tie), Kekoo Gandhy, Manishi Dey. Last row: (standing) all four men are unknown.
    First publication of the iconic photo of the Progressive Artists’ Group and their associates in the catalogue for the inauguration of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) Mumbai, 1996 (Photo: Yashodhara Dalmia, 2020).Another moment from the same lineup: the historic snapshot from Khorshed and Kekoo Gandhy’s archive on the front-page of their book The Perfect Frame. Presenting Modern Indian Art. Stories and Photographs from the collection of Kekoo Gandhy (Zitzewitz 2003, front page).Dr. Percy Brown, Käthe Langhammer and M.F. Husain in front of Husain´s ground-breaking painting Man during the evening of the opening on 3 February 1950 (Dalmia 2001, 103; authorized by Yashodhara Dalmia).
    Bombay
    Jehangir Art Gallery
    Art GalleryAuditorium HallLibrary

    Efforts to create spaces for the democratic presentation, discussion and reflection of art in Bombay after independence led to the establishment of the Jehangir Art Gallery in 1952.

    Word Count: 27

    Jehangir Art Gallery, 2018 (Photo: Margit Franz; All Rights Reserved).
    Jehangir Art Gallery, entrance hall, 2007 (Photo: Margit Franz; All Rights Reserved).Jehangir Art Gallery, entrance hall: Bust of the donor and founder Sir Cowasji Jehangir between his two sons. On the left Jehangir Cowasji Jehangir, who gave the gallery its name; on the right Sir Hirji Jehangir, former chairman of the Jehangir Art Gallery Trust, 2018 (Photo: Margit Franz, 2018).Portrait of Jehangir Cowasji Jehangir by Walter Langhammer (Photo: Margit Franz, 2007).Commemorative plaque (Photo: Margit Franz, 2018).Art education for the masses: Walter Langhammer presents a USIS (United States Information Service) film at Jehangir Art Gallery, Auditorium Hall, 1952 (© Digital Photo Archive Margit Franz, authorized by the late Kekoo Gandhy; © Gandhy Archive, Mumbai; All Rights Reserved).
    Bombay