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Biography

Born in the Punjab region of India in 1939, Balraj Khanna was an artist, writer and curator. Balraj Khanna's distinctive creative life began in India in 1940. As a child of the Punjab with his family, he witnessed the cataclysmic Partition on India in 1947, when Hindus and Muslims who had co-existed peacefully for generations, succumbed to blood-soaked enmity. After completing his studies at the University of Chandigarh, moved to the UK in 1962 intending to further his studies in English literature, but instead discovered a passion for drawing and painting.

Balraj arrived in London in the bitterly-cold winter of 1962 with only letters of introduction, and struggled to find somewhere to live, having been warned in advance by the Goanese painter Francis Newton Souza of 'the pitiless prejudice, indifference and scorn' he could expect to encounter.

Within months of his arrival in London, Khanna found a community of fellow artists, including the painters F.N. Souza (1924–2002). By 1964 he was a member of the Indian Painters Collective, a group that advocated for the representation of Indian artists in Britain.

But meetings with the critic and novelist Mulk Raj Anand, the painter Avinash Chandra, and the keeper of the Victoria & Albert Museum's Indian Collection, W.G.Archer, opened doors. In 1968 the 28-year old Balraj was given a solo exhibition at Oxford's Ashmolean Museum. 

Before long, Bryan Robertson described Balraj as 'one of the most distinguished artists working in England. Nobody in England is painting like Khanna. The delicate gravity and slow-moving warm effulgence of his paintings with their complex layers of surface reflect the attributes of a world which is utterly Khanna's own.

Balraj Khanna's work is held in major national institutions across Europe, USA and India. He lived and worked in London with Francine, his French wife until he passed away on the 19th of January 2024. 

Artist, Balraj Khanna, London -1974

1939 

Born on 03 October in Jhang in the Punjab, India.

1962

MA Punjab University, Chandigahr, India Moved to England.

1964

Becomes a member of the Indian Painters Collective, a group that advocated for the representation of Indian artists in Britain.

Khanna marries Francine Meunier in France.

1965-70

Exhibits at the New Vision Centre, London in 1965, first daughter Nathalie is born. In 1966 exhibits at the Anthony Tooth's Gallery, London and a years later second daughter Kaushalia is born in 1967. In 1968, exhibits at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Worked in England and France.

1971-72

Worked as a Foreign Correspondent during the India-Pakistan War leading to the liberation of Bangladesh. Painted BIRTH OF A NATION – BANGLADESH now with National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi.

1975-79

Executed Mosaic Mural for a private swimming pool in London.

1979

Serpentine South Gallery , Summer show (2) London.

1980

Exhibits at the October Gallery, London.

1981

Lectured on Indian art and personal development at Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester Universities, The Royal College, St Martin`s, the South Bank Centre, The Institute of Education, SOAS, MOMA – Oxford, the Hayward Gallery, the Serpentine Gallery, the V& A, the Bradford Museum, the Brighton Museum and other Venues.

1981-82

Executed Painting Mural for Elven Precision Ltd Crawley, Sussex.

1983-88

Chairman, Indian Arts Council in the UK.

1984

Exhibits at the Air Gallery, London.

Awarded the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize by the Royal Society of Literature for first novel 'Nation of Fools' published by Michael Joseph & Penguin.

1985

Awarded the Mahatma Gandhi Prize for Literature by the GLC for 'Partition', a novel set in India in 1947.

1986

Represented India at Illkley Literature Festival. Represented India at Commonwealth Writers Conference, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh.

1983-88

Chairman, Indian Arts Council in the UK.

1986

Founded the Horizon Gallery, London.

Exhibits at the Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh

1985-86

Co-author with Richard Cork and Shirley Read of Art on the South Bank, an independent report commissioned by the GLC, published in 1986.

1986-87

Member, Exhibitions Committee, Arts Council of Great Britain.

1987

Participates in Mapping out images / Knowing your place with the work 'The real Centre of the Universe'. 

1987-90

Member, Visual Art Panel, South Bank Centre and Hayward Gallery.

1987-92

Five large paintings by Khanna were acquired by St. Mary's Hospital in Paddington.

1989

Included in ' The Other Story ' : Afro-Asian artists in Post-par Britain, a major exhibition demonstrating a alternative to the mainstream Western artistic canon of modern art, curated by Rasheed Araeen, at the Hayward Gallery, London.

Wrote the article titled 'England: my brave new world' for the exhibition catalogue.  

1994-95

Member of Projects Committee, Arts Council of England.

Curated KALIGHAT PAINTINGS-1930, Popular Indian Art, an Hayward Gallery touring exhibition from the collections of the British Museum, the V&A and others, at the Leicester Museum; the City Art Centre; Edinburgh; the Bradford Museum; MOMA, Oxford and at the V&A, London.

1996

Solo exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea, Sussex

1997-1998

Curated KRISHNA – THE DIVINE LOVER, a Hayward Gallery touring exhibition of 16th-19th century Indian miniature from the V&A, the British Museum the British Library and other public collections, at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, followed by shows at Huddersfield Art Gallery; Mappin Gallery, Sheffield; Brighton Museum.

1997-99

Mosaic Mural Commission, Museum of Modern Art Wales, the Tabernacle, Machynlleth, Wales.

1997-98

Painting Commission for the Conquest Hospital, Hastings.

2000-2001 

Curated HUMAN AND DIVINE 2000 YEARS OF INDIAN SCULPTURE a Hayward Gallery National Touring Exhibition at the new Walsall Art Gallery; Sainsbury's Art Centre, Norwich; Southampton City Art Gallery.

198-2001

Commissioned to paint the Safety Curtain, Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, one of the Largest work of Public Art in the UK.

2006

Included in HOW TO IMPROVE THE WORLD – 60 Years of British Art 1945-2006 Hayward Gallery, London.

2013

A MAJOR RETROSPECTIVE at MOMA, Wales.

2014

Winter Monsoon - Group show at the Osborn Samuel Gallery, London

2015

NATIONAL LIVES, The British Library.

2015-16

Included in ARTIST & EMPIRE, Tate Britain.

2018

The Great Wall of Small is Beautiful  first shown at Jerwood Gallery, Hastings.

2022

Published 'Born in India - Made in England'. Solo show and book launch at the Osborn Samuel Gallery, London

2024-2025

Tate acquisition of three major paintings and solo display of Khanna's work entittled 'Theatre of the Natural World' at Tate Britain, London until April 2025. 

Balraj Khanna, Riverscape 1970

Art is a window into Life and the Universe; 

You are looking in when you are looking out.

Balraj Khanna, 1974

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