As you walk through ‘Cymroza Chronicles’, an exhibit at the now 50-year-old Cymroza Art Gallery in the heart of South Bombay’s Breach Candy, you are taken into the past. Letters typewritten on bright pink paper from founder Pheroza Godrej (neé Shroff) to artists like Pilloo Pochkhanawala rest under glass cases. Catalogues from exhibitions from the year I was born, and prior, are pinned on the walls as a remnant of an art gallery that gave many their start in the competitive art world.
As Cymroza celebrates its golden jubilee, a trio of special exhibitions have been organised, the ‘Cymroza Chronicles’ at the gallery itself, ‘Mapping the Lost Spectrum’ a curation of art from the Jamshyd & Pheroza Godrej Collection at Pundole’s. Lastly, there is ‘The Unpaved, Crusty, Earthy Road,’ a Nelly Sethna retrospective at Chatterjee & Lal. The first two exhibitions are curated by Ranjit Hoskote while the latter is curated by Nancy Adajania.
The founder of Cymroza, Pheroza Godrej, was a young painter and student of English Literature, passionate about contemporary Indian art. In a conversation with LuxeBook, Godrej says of her vision for the gallery “I wanted to give a platform to young artists to exhibit and that’s how Cymroza started.” She reminisces about Bombay in the 70s, talking of the few avenues open to young artists who had never had a show. Founding the space at the young age of 23; Godrej had the complete support of her progressive family. In fact, she gave the gallery a name formed from theirs, ‘Cy’ for her brother Cyrus; ‘m’ for her mother Mitha; ‘roz’ for her father Phiroze and ‘a’ for herself.
The gallery opened in October 1971, just before the Bangladesh war, a time when Bombay suffered multiple blackouts. Now, the gallery has survived this unpredictable pandemic as well. The gallery hosted its opening day with works by Pilloo Pochkhanawala, B. Prabha and B. Vithal. Initially set to launch on the 15th of August, 1971, the inauguration had to be pushed to the day before Dussehra, because Pochkhanawala, a celebrated sculptor, and mentor to Godrej, pointed out the spirit of the gallery and the logo and letterhead did not match. Godrej had chosen an old English typeset for her letterhead for her contemporary, young artist-driven gallery. Even though she had a chief guest in mind, Godrej went back to the drawing board and finalised the unique Cymroza logo and a custom font that we are so familiar with today.
Cymroza pioneered the patronage of textile artists, ceramicists, printmakers and photographers, as well as painters and sculptors. The Cymroza Chronicles chart five decades of the Cymroza Art Gallery’s journey through a collection of archival materials, including photographs of opening receptions and exhibitions, correspondence, invitation cards, announcements, visitors’ books and catalogues. The Cymroza Chronicles is on view @ Cymroza Art Gallery till October 19, 2021.
Mapping the Lost Spectrum
Talking of her personal art collection, the elegant Mrs Godrej says, “I didn’t start out as a collector, then gradually after the gallery was established, I started collecting prints because they were affordable for a young person like me.” Walls at Pundole’s are peppered with works by the greats, M.F. Husain, S.H. Raza, and Jehangir Sabavala; one can lose themselves staring at one piece after the other, all vastly different but notable works. The collection embraces a range of media including painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, ceramics, fibre art, and photography. “The collection is a personal and individual’s taste and desire, it’s quite varied from figurative art to abstract art, sculpture, ceramics and printmaking,” says Godrej.
Mapping the Lost Spectrum is on view @ Pundole’s till September 14, 2021.
The Unpaved, Crusty, Earthy Road
This first-ever retrospective of Nelly Sethna (1932-1992) brings together this fibre artist’s versatile art. Championed by Cymroza founder, Mrs Pheroza Godrej, Sethna wore many hats; as a weaver, textile designer, researcher and crafts activist. The research-driven exhibit curated by Nancy Adajania has unseen archival material from the 1960s to the early 1990s. Including works from Sethna’s research trips to Iran and Kutch, rare documentation of her fibre mobiles, draperies and room dividers from the 1960s, and her ambitious corporate commissions from the 1970s.
A majority of the exhibits are drawn from the Jamshyd & Pheroza Godrej Collection.The Unpaved, Crusty, Earthy Road, a Nelly Sethna retrospective is on view @ Chatterjee & Lal till October 16, 2021.
In addition to the exhibitions, a series of talks and panel discussions are planned for the celebrations, with a focus on the history of the gallery scene in Mumbai, using Cymroza as an anchor. A publication is planned for release in early to mid-2022.