Santosh (né Gulam Rasool Dar) was born to a lower-middle-class family in the city of Srinagar, Kashmir. He dreamed of becoming an artist from an early age, but soon after his graduation from high school, his father’s untimely death forced him to turn to signboard painting and whitewashing walls. By the end of the 1940s he found his way back to the arts, and in 1952 he joined the Progressive Arts Association in Kashmir, which was founded by Syed Haider Raza, a visionary modernist. Santosh is best known for his abstract depictions of Indic tantric iconography, which feature distilled spheres and ovoids within solid fields of contrasting colors. Less well known are works such as this one, which draw from other spiritual traditions. Here, jagged lines suggest the crucified figure of Christ, whose stigmata shine out from the forest of abstraction.
In the 1960s, Indian artists who were harnessing local religious and spiritual iconography were aware of the West’s growing engagement with Eastern themes. With the rise of the counterculture in the U.S. and the West’s turn to Indian philosophies as alternative spiritual and intellectual paths, Indian artists looked to their own traditions in search of patently Indian yet increasingly universal artistic languages. A rich conversation emerged; Ravi Shankar’s musical collaboration with the Beatles is perhaps the best-known example of this dialogue. In addition, Christian iconography—a rich part of India’s cultural heritage owing, in part, to the country’s colonial legacy—was brought into the Indian modernist vocabulary. Santosh and his fellow artists moved seamlessly back and forth between the connected idioms of India and the West.