Veteran artist AA Raiba passed away on Friday morning at his home in Nalasopara, a fringe suburb of Mumbai. He was 94.
Raiba had been ailing for a few months and had been unable to recognise visitors in the days before he died.
Earlier in the week, doctors had informed his two sons and daughter that he didn’t have much time, says art curator Sumesh Sharma. He died of a cardiac arrest, confirmed his younger son Najeeb.
Born into a poor Konkani-Muslim family in then Bombay, Raiba -- the son of a tailor -- was widely acclaimed as a young artist, for his distinct style that featured bold shapes and bright colours. He often worked with natural pigments that he made out of lemon and mango peel, and used jute cloth and scraps from saris as canvases.
“A simple man of few words, he always strived to do something different,” says artist Prabhakar Kolte.
One of the earliest members of the influential Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, Raiba struck out on his own following differences of opinion with fellow members, who included the likes of MF Husain, SH Raza and Akbar Padamsee.
Always a nature-lover, he travelled across the country from the 1950s on, eventually settling in Kashmir for five years after falling in love with its landscapes. “He created some amazing art there,” says Sharma.
As he wandered, though, he was gradually forgotten in his hometown of Mumbai. When his home and studio in central Mumbai burnt down in 1972, he moved -- unnoticed -- to the tiny home in Nalasopara where he would live out the rest of his days with his family and his art.
It was only in 2011 that his name resurfaced in the art world, when Sumesh Sharma and Zasha Colah of the Clark House Initiative, an art collective, launched a study of Raiba’s work, created a short documentary on his unusual life, and brought his unique art back into focus.
“Among my favourite works of Raiba’s are his meticulous early pieces of old Bombay, which like all his other works are extensively researched,” says Kolte. “He told us that he had visited several libraries for his work,” adds Sharma.
Exhibitions were held in 2011 and 2013; by now Raiba was impoverished and in his early 90s.
“Two years ago, Sumesh, Zasha, Raiba’s family and I celebrated his 92nd birthday at Clark House, with students from the JJ School of Art,” says Anand Nikam, head of the print-making studio at the JJ School of Art. “He was happy and shared stories of his college days and travels with the students.”
The man was always full of life, adds Manisha Patil, an art historian and professor at JJ. “Even in a wheelchair and with his health failing, he continued to paint until his last days.”