A celebration of Indian-ness
Homage to M F Hussain, died 9 June, in London, England,
born 17 September 1915, India
Any great change in a nation's civilization begins in the field of culture
– Maqbool Fida Husain, quoted by Thomas Abrahamin in Frontline
We had our own parallel national movement. We were part of the Progressive Artists Group; there were five or six painters in Mumbai and a few in Calcutta [now Kolkata]. We came out to fight against two prevalent schools of thought in those days, the Royal Academy, which was British-oriented, and the revivalist school in Mumbai, which was not a progressive movement. These two we decided to fight, and we demolished them.' The voice of dissent that was Maqbool Fida Husain, whose conversation Thomas Abraham solemnly encapsulated in an article in Frontline, may never fade but the person behind it is no more. The most celebrated Indian artist, who authored some of the important aesthetic moments in modern times, died in exile. He was 96.
The most unwholesome fate that befell him, an artist who lived an epic life, according to Saeed Naqvi, he was incessantly hounded by the Hindu fundamentalist groups who still sway over India and its polity. Often referred to as the biggest democracy on earth, India, where Husain was born and brought up and as a flamboyant artist often roamed barefoot, could not protect its own star artist much to the dismay of his sympathizers at home and abroad.
As an artist, Husain had a penchant for alluding to national symbols. Take for example the 'Ashoka Pillar', or the 'Ganesha in Tricolour' – done with an intention to conflate nationalist symbols with his personal vision of India. Yet his 'Bharat Mata' or 'Mother India', a 2004 oil painting which shows the image of Mother India as a naked woman, spread over the map of India, only earned him ill fame and the controversy that it created dogged him to the last.
Around 900 cases or more were filed against the aging master; of these most are reportedly pending. The genesis of the controversies, according to a report in Sunday Pioneer, 'lies in his depiction of some Hindu goddesses and Bharat Mata in the nude. There is a sketch that Husain made in 1976, of an unclad goddess Sharashwati. Sita has also been divested of clothes in a painting. There is another one of goddess Durga, apparently in a suggestive pose.'
The Hindutva political bodies took umbrage at the depiction of Hindu devis in buff, and charged him with offending religious sentiments. In a 1996 report in Vichar Mimansa, a Hindi monthly magazine, quizzed: 'MF Husain: A Painter or Butcher'. Their anger continued to simmer, exploding when, in February 2006, an English weekly published an advertisement titled 'Art for Mission Kashmir'. It reproduced the painting of Bharat Mata, which was meant for auction in a fund-raising event for earthquake victims in Jammu & Kashmir. The painter was already living abroad when this happened. A non-bailable warrant had been issued against him when he did not respond to summons, the report on Sunday Pioneer confirms.
Often fetching astronomical sums in auctions in London and New York in the recent years, Husain was forced to turn away from his homeland in 2006 following a series of legal cases and death threats. He accepted citizenship of Qatar in 2010 and divided his time between Qatar and London before succumbing to old-age complicacies.
It was Mumbai where Husain started out as a painter of Bollywood posters in the 1920s and later went on to achieve iconic status as he crossed over to the mainstream and as an exponent of the Progressive Artists Group, joined hands with the likes of Krishen Khanna, Tyeb Mehta, Souza, and Raza – artists responsible for inaugurating modernism from the Indian perspective.
The Indian modern master's death outside the country of birth is symbolic of the religious sentiment driven mob-rule and cultural vandalism that have gripped India since the rise of the Hindu right, and the failure of the cultural mainstream to protect one of its seminal figures
Quotes by Husain sourced from
Thomas Abrahamin's article in Frontline
ART, INDIAN AND WESTERN: The main difference between Indian art and Western art is that in the West, after the Renaissance, they had the Impressionists, then Cubism and so on. We, however, had already passed those stages. They were not necessary, because in our Indian folk art and tribal art, we had all these elements, and we have them even today. It is a living art form. After the Renaissance, artists in the West were concerned with depicting space and matter. We had already gone beyond that in our sculptures and paintings. When Michelangelo and others were trying to create the human form, we had passed that stage. The image of Nataraja is the highest form of art; it corresponded to the cosmos.
ON CONTEMPORARY AND FOLK ART: I am a misfit in the mainstream of contemporary Indian art. It has no relevance to our culture. Its points of reference are in the West, and that has to change. The problem with Indian contemporary art is the lack of a historical perspective.