Even when he was widely acknowledged as a major figure of modern Indian art, Sayed Haider Raza, living in France and Paris for sixty years, always felt deeply concerned about the struggles of and inadequate opportunities for the younger generations of artists in his native country. On his almost annual sojourns to India, Raza would always find time and energy to meet young artists, see and discuss their works, and would invariably acquire the ones he felt had some substance of either idiom or vision. His mansion in Paris had a large and growing collection of such works. He never failed to recall the hard times he and his other artist comrades including MF Husain, FN Souza, HA Gade, SK Bakre and Krishnaji Ara had when they were young and putting together the path-breaking Progressive Artists Group in what was then Bombay.
Ever since he started earning sufficient income from his art, Raza deeply desired that at least a part of this income go towards the promotion and support of younger artists in India. Young Indian artists who visited him in Paris never tire of their tales of his unfailing generosity which eventually took the shape of the Raza Foundation, a private non-profit trust. Initially there were only three founding trustees namely Raza, Arun Vadehra (of Vadehra Art Gallery) and me. Later we added some more people who shared the vision behind the Foundation, namely painters Akhilesh and Manish Pushkale, Kathak dancer Prerana Shrimali, poet writer Udayan Vajpeyi, poet-art critic Ranjit Hoskote and culture critic Sadanand Menon.
In the beginning the Foundation gave two awards annually, one in visual arts and one in poetry. Later the scheme expanded to cover classical music and classical dance also. Each award carried a sum of Rs. one lakh and a citation. It can be said without exaggeration that some of the best, the most innovative and daring artists, poets, musicians and dancers have been recipients of these highly coveted and prestigious awards. More so, because they have been instituted by a great artist who has been the exclusive donor of his personal funds to the Foundation. Apart from the above-mentioned awards the Raza Foundation, over the years, has contributed towards publication of catalogues by young artists; intellectual and creative encounters; celebrations of birth centenaries of two major Hindi poets, Agyeya and Shamsher Bahadur Singh; and has been involved with BAR 1 Bangalore for a workshop in new media, with the Kritya International Poetry Festival, Thiruvananthapuram, and other such events. Since 2009 the Foundation has been organizing a week-long interactive camp at Anandgram, New Delhi, featuring around fifteen of the Raza Foundation awardees. The annual event allows practitioners of visual arts, music, dance and poetry to share ideas, visions, anxieties, etc., and to develop a deeper understanding of arts other than one’s own.
Raza came back home in India in 2011 to live in Delhi for good, the Foundation further expanded its activities under his unobtrusive and generous guidance. A new series of panel discussions on many urgent issues of the arts such as Democracy and Culture, Arts and Public Institutions, the Disappearing Criticism, etc., titled ‘Art Matters’ is already started in Delhi 42 talks and conversations have taken place. A galaxy of speakers include Ashis Nandy, Krishen Khanna, B N Goswamy, Arpita Singh, Alarmel Valli, Ananya Vajpeyi, Vivan Sundaram, Gayatri Sinha, Geeta Kapur, Ranjit Hoskote, Arundhathi Subramaniam, Alok Rai, Jogen Chowdhury, Kiran Nadar, Nilima Sheikh, O P Jain, Saba Hasan, Navtej Johar, Subodh Gupta, Shubha Mudgal, Peter Nagy, Amitava Das, Aditi Mangal Das, Sunil Kothari, Leela Venkat Raman, Kamlesh, Suresh Neotia, Purushottam Agrawal, Jawhar Sircar, Kavita Singh, Naman Ahuja, Parulk Dave Mukherji etc.
Seven memorial lectures named after some of the great masters namely V S Gaitonde (visual arts), Agyeya (poetry), Habib Tanvir (theatre), Kelucharan Mohapatra (dance), Kumar Gandharva (music), Mani Kaul (cinema), and Daya Krishna (philosophy) are also being held since 2012-13. The lectures have been delivered by Dr. Hiren Gohain, Shiva Viswanathan, Sitanshu Yashaschandra, K Satchidanandan, Ramchandra Guha, Dileep Padgaonkar, Kumar Shahani, T M Krishna, Mukund Lath, Padma Subrahmanyam, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Pt. Vijay Kichlu, Shanta Gokhale etc.
Also, instead of its usual awards, the Foundation offered Raza Fellowships to young scholars, critics, etc., in the fields of visual arts, poetry, music and dance. The Foundation supported two international seminars on ‘Art and the Promise of Beauty’ in February 2012 and ‘Word and Image’ in 2013. A Hindi journal of literature, arts and ideas, ‘Samas,’ is being published by Raza Foundation and edited by Udayan Vajpeyi. As Raza turned ninety years of age on 22nd Feb 2012, the Foundation, in collaboration with the India Habitat Centre, the Vadehra Art Gallery, the Sangeet Natak Akademi and the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, organized a major multi art festival, ‘AVIRAAM,’ consisting of an art exhibition (seventeen artists), an evening of poetry (seven poets) and a festival of classical dance and music (eleven performers) at the Visual Arts Gallery and the Meghdoot Open Air Theatre. In addition to being a celebration of creativity, imagination and sensitivity of our times through some of the best of the respective fields, it was also a major showcasing of the Raza awardees over a decade.
The Foundation has also been providing a financial assistance for a large number of institutions, individuals and projects relating to culture, visual arts, music, dance, theatre, ideas, architecture, photography etc. They include a retrospective of Mani Kaul’s films in Osian Film Festival, centenaries of Ram Vilas Sharma, Nalin Vilochan Sharma; ‘Samanvya’ a multilingual festival of letters, ‘Sahmat’, Khoj Studios, Kabir Project Bengaluru, centenary of Mohanrao Kalyanpurkar, ‘Arts as Activism Exhibition’, Critical Collective Website, Kaljayee: a festival celebrating 90th year of Kumar Gandharva etc.
The Foundation provided financial assistance for publication of many important books including ‘Art Critic: writings of Richard Bartholomew’, ‘Kumar Shahani the shock of desire and other essays’, ‘Smriti Vismriti : Shankho Chaudhury’, ‘Kaljayee Kumar Gandharva’, ‘The Spirit of Indian Paintings : B N Goswamy’, ‘Finding My Way: Venkat Singh Shyam’, ‘Sonata of Solitude : Vasudev Santu Gaitonde’ etc.