A BOMBAY PARSI IN DELHI AND LONDON
Art India|January 2020
Gallerist and curator Mortimer Chatterjee discusses why Rustom Siodia should be considered an important presence in pre-Independence Indian art history.
Rustom Siodia

Rustom Siodia (1881-1946) was a painter, illustrator and essayist. The exhibition, Realism and Fantasy, argued for his place amongst the canon of significant artists active in India during the first half of the 20th Century. Since his death in 1946, this was the first opportunity to view such a large body of the artist’s work. It charted the entire course of his career from art school at J. J. to the peak of his career in the 1930s.

Chatterjee & Lal’s gallery programme has often engaged with historical material including major exhibitions of Amrita Sher-Gil, Nasreen Mohamedi and Sunil Janah. Group exhibitions have looked at Sir J. J. School of Art artists (1930s-1950s) and design histories in India during the 20th Century. When a friend of the gallery and an ardent advocate for the Siodia estate, Atul Tolani, proposed to introduce us to the work, we readily agreed.

The Bilimorias are a delightful family based in south Mumbai who, as direct descendants of Siodia, have been custodians to his paintings since the 1970s. Before being introduced to us, Siodia’s great-grandson, Behzad Bilimoria, spent a number of years working with the material, making a meticulous inventory. It was a herculean task given that there was not one but three archives to sort: those of Siodia himself; his daughter, the artist Cumi Dallas; and lastly his son-in-law, the renowned architect Hormazdyar Dallas. Working closely with both Behzad and Atul, the gallery began to build a cohesive narrative of Siodia’s life and times. It was also during this period that Atul and the gallery ideated on the re-introduction of the artist into the public domain. It soon emerged that Siodia was a major figure in his own lifetime, lauded both in India and Great Britain.

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