Twelve Men and a Short-lived Idea
A collective in Baroda raised hopes for contemporary Indian art but failed to live up to its self-proclaimed ideals. SANDHYA BORDEWEKAR details the desires and aspirations of Group 1890.
Probably, only a few contemporary Indian artists have heard of Group 1890, or are aware of what it stood for. This is unfortunate because Group 1890 was, perhaps, one of the earliest serious efforts among Indian artists to question prevalent art practices and formulate a new approach to art-making.
The Group was founded in Bhavnagar, Gujarat, in August 1962, after a series of meetings with various artists from different parts of the country. Its name was arrived at rather quixotically by selecting the house number of Jyoti and Jayant Pandya, who had hosted the twelve artists, which included J. Swaminathan, Ambadas, Jeram Patel, Jyoti Bhatt, Raghav Kaneria, Balkrishna Patel, Gulammohammed Sheikh, M. Reddeppa Naidu, S. G. Nikam, Rajesh Mehra, Himmat Shah and Eric Bowen. Jyoti and Jayant Pandya were art connoisseurs; Jyoti was a self-taught artist of some importance. The Pandyas were not only supportive of the artists, they were also gracious ART Profile India The Art News Magazine of India December 2011 Volume XVI Issue III hosts. Indeed, many visiting artists from different parts of Gujarat would stay at a hotel on Marine Drive managed by Jayant Pandya.
The Bhavnagar meeting had been the outcome of prolonged discussions over a period of two years. Finally, “having come to a common understanding regarding the vitiating influences which hinder the unfolding of authentic development in art, it was decided to launch the Group 1890 movement”.1 The Group had no regional affiliations, although it became associated with Baroda, probably because a few of its members later made it their home. Most significantly, it didn’t advocate any set principles related to art-making. This differentiated the Group from many other art movements that focused on a particular style or ideology.
J. Swaminathan led the Group while Jeram Patel acted as its secretary. Following the discussions at Bhavnagar, the Group arrived at a manifesto, drafted primarily by J. Swaminathan. The manifesto was finally adopted in New Delhi on the 17th of July, 1963. The manifesto voiced the Group’s unequivocal rejection of the prevalent art practices of Indian artists. It also revealed the Group’s approach to the creative process. The manifesto declared, “To us, the creative act is an experience in itself, appropriated by us and therefore bearing no relation to the work of art, which creates its own field of experience, as the experience of copulation is not the same as that of the offspring.” In their view, therefore, a work of art stood alone, isolated from any explanatory props that the artist wanted to offer. This idea was the keynote of the manifesto; the rest of their arguments served to bolster this primary theme.