From SAHMAT Ashok Kumari
Easily the most iconic artist of modern India, Maqbool Fida Husain passed away in London on 9 June 2011. M. F. Husain was born in 1915 in Pandharpur, the famous temple town in Maharashtra. Bereft of his mother’s presence since childhood, Husain grew up in the multi-cultural milieu of Indore where his father migrated around 1919.
Indian civilization, in all its diversity, had been Husain’s basic inspirational project. Since the year of Independence, through the Nehruvian decades and thereon, cognizant of all the challenges involved in nation-building, Husain had been steadfast in maintaining a most affirmative relationship with the Indian peoples’ consciousness of their national identity. Through him, we have learned to address a whole gamut of issues pertaining to the interactive dynamic of modernity with the country’s many-layered art and culture.
He had made a signal contribution in reworking the aesthetic traditions of India including especially the tradition of iconographic innovation. He is among those few modern artists who had focused on mythological and epic narratives, and, for over half a century, he had painted themes from the epics in literally thousands of paintings and drawings. This alone speaks of his passion for these narratives and, further, of his understanding that their literary, performing and visual form has changed through the centuries, and therefore carries the mandate for new articulations within the contemporary.
Equally important, these series of Husain paintings have been shown in urban and rural sites through unique modes of public dissemination. And it speaks of the generous comprehension of this project by viewers all over India, viewers who cut across barriers of class and culture, that they have been received with the affectionate regard and playful participation they require.
Posterity will certainly name Husain as one of the most prominent post-Indpendence artists to shape the contemporary art in the spirit of a living and changing tradition. More than any other modern artist in India, he has understood how a syncretic civilization and the dynamics of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious nation have together prompted these interpretations and empowered the community of artists to evolve a uniquely modern language consistent with the complexity of these civilizational narratives.
Indeed, Husain was such an iconic figure that we could use the very iconography of Maqbool Fida Husain, of the person himself, to forward ideas about Indian visual culture in the framework of a dynamic public sphere. Already, his life and work are beginning to serve as an allegory for the changing modalities of the secular in modern India — and the challenges that the narrative of the nation holds for us.
It is unfortunate that this very aspect of his persona led to a relentless campaign of villification and calumny against him by bigotted Hindu fundamentalist groups since 1996. After a decade of standing up to threats to his person and vandalising of his art works in public spaces, M.F.Husain went into a self-imposed exile in 2006. Four years later he was offered and accepted the citizenship of Qatar. The artistic community, secular and democratic opinion in the country however stood steadfastly with him and had been urging the government to bring him back.
We believe that India will be the poorer if a proper monument to Husain and his paintings is not created in the country for posterity.
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