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A.A. Raiba

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1922, Mumbai
Lives and works in Mumbai

A neo- miniaturist at heart, he experiments with new forms. Rising from difficult financial conditions to the position of India's foremost artist solely on the basis of merit and scholarship and yet living simply, A.A. Raiba is a figure to look up to in all regards. He is the most famous for his Old Bombay- Vasai series of paintings that dwell deeper into his Konkani roots and his use of Jute canvas that give his paintings a distinct character.



Sir JJ School of Arts, Mumbai

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The artist AA Raiba had very humble beginnings

Born in the humble Muslim dominated area of Temkar Street, off Kamathipura, in Bombay Central, Abdul Aziz Raiba was born to a family of tailors with meager means. With scholarships as the defining factor in education, he managed to get through school, studying Urdu extensively and being encouraged to pursue writing as a career. Calligraphy was the main reason his talents in the field of arts were recognized and he joined the artist Dandavatimath's school of art. Following the foundation courses here, he joined the JJ School of Art. As part of the theosophy society, he learned about the philosophy of religions to provide answers for material existence. In the JJ school of art, he was pursued to take up mural painting, though he preferred oils to the widely used medium Tempera.

He contemplated moving to Paris, but his means allowed him something humbler, like Kashmir, as suggested by Walter Laghammer. Unfinished works from Kashmir, which were recently brought to the public, depict his musings in Kashmir, living with the hill community of Gurjars.

A.A. Raiba, Mother & Child, 1958, tempera on fabric pasted on board

A.A. Raiba, Untitled, 1958, oil on cloth pasted on mount board and supported by plyboard

A.A. Raiba, Untitled, 1958, oil on cloth pasted on mount board and supported by plyboard

Raiba developed a new technique of painting on jute

On returning from Kashmir, he got married and lived in a small house with his mother, wife and three children, sustaining a family on mural commissions. He declined the offer to join the Bombay Progressives group because of conflict of personal philosophies. In Kashmir, cloth served as a canvas for the impoverished artist. On his return, he found a technique of priming jute in a manner that made it taught. Raiba became synonymous with the use of jute as the base for his paintings and we have numerous examples of his paintings on jute, though it should be noted that jute fibers often shed, making it difficult to paint on as it absorbs paint but Raiba’s works have not developed cracks even after years of being produced. He primed the jute with a white sticky solution of white clay paste, fevicol (gum adhesive), water and ground bricks, turning it into a pale white colour. The process is time consuming as it takes about 15 layers of paint to be applied before it can be rendered useful.

A.A. Raiba, Untitled, 1960, oil on jute canvas

A.A. Raiba, Untitled, 1960, oil on jute canvas

A.A. Raiba, Untitled, 1960, oil on jute

A.A. Raiba, City of Murals, 1984, oil on jute canvas

Raiba's extensive travels inspired many of his paintings

Seeking inspiration and yearning to explore and recreate history, he traveled extensively- to temples of South India and then to erstwhile Portuguese colonies around Old Bombay and Vasai. He was especially prompted by his ethnic roots to visit Konkan, a Portuguese colony. The result of this whole exercise was that he indulged in extensive research including details from the Gazette of India, 18th century etching of Bombay maps, etc.

With deep interest in Islamic literature and Urdu Poetry, he painted much more than just beautiful landscapes for documentation. They were imaginary, based on a studied research of History. Though Raiba often travelled to places he would then treat as subjects for his canvas, though they reserved greater scholarly and historical significance, for example the project of illustrations of Mirza Ghalib's poems.

A.A. Raiba, Old Bombay, 1981, oil on canvas

A.A. Raiba, Baseen Fort, 1960, oil on jute

A.A. Raiba, Vasai series, 1982, oil on canvas

Raiba's style constantly evolved over the years

A. A. Raiba is primarily known for his neo-miniature style of painting where the horizon is blurred to merge planes and mystify dimensions so that multiple perspectives lie in the same line. He places his subjects in the same plane as the background, but illuminating them to make their importance and lyrical importance clear. The bold lines of charcoal that he always used for sketching underwent change, depending on the requirements of subject matter.

In his earlier works, he depicts Christ, female nudes, and the erotic with sharp linear, angular shapes, later transforming to more cubical styles.

He designed the catalogue and invites to his exhibitions and his lifelong encounters with calligraphy in Urdu couplets bore some very interesting results. He even experimented with print making at the age of 58, but didn't find fulfillment there. An example of an eccentric project was the etching of mullet scales because of the unique quality of their scales. His most recent works though have been in glass, composing singular image three-dimensionally by placing differently drawn layers of glass together.

A.A. Raiba, Crucifixion, 1964

A.A. Raiba, Untitled

A.A. Raiba, Untitled, 1958, oil on canvas

A.A. Raiba, Untitled, 1964, charcoal on paper pasted on handmade paper