M. F. Husain (1915 – 2011)

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.

29, Feroze Shah Road, New Delhi-110001
Telephone- 23381276/ 23070787

Musical tribute to Manjit Bawa


A daylong musical tribute to painter Manjit Bawa was paid in New Delhi on the 1st January at a heavily attended day long memorial organised by the Sahmat (Safdar Hāshmi Memorial Trust) in the lawns next to Mavlankar Auditorium.

The occasion was Hashmi’s 20th Death Anniversary with a special tribute to Bawa. Hashmi was brutally murdered in 1989 in Delhi while performing a street play.

Amongst the outstanding artists paying musical tributes were: Madan Gopal Singh, Meeta Pandit (grand daughter of Krishnarao Pandit), Sunanda Sharma (the singer from Pathankot who has established herself as a singer of unparalleled power and intensity), Astad Deboo (his dance was sublime), Prahlad Singh Tipania (the current head of the Kabir Panth), Jasbir Jassi (in a short and impassioned tribute), Rabbi Shergill (with his new compositions), and the Mangniars from Rajasthan.

Jassi sang Bol Mitti deya Baweya and Madan Gopal Singh ended with Shah Husain’s kāfi Maen vi jaan*a jhok Ranjhan* di.

Celebrities like Mira Nair, Nandita Das, Teesta Setalvaad, Vivan Sundram, Geeta Kapoor, Ghulam Sheikh, Nilima Sheikh, Rajeev Sethi, Manmohan Bawa, Kumkum Sangari and Aruna Vasudev were among the audience.

People kept sitting till mid night under the tent in freezing cold.

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MF Husain kept out of India Art Summit

The following statement was issued by members of Sahmat in New Delhi to protest against the decision of the authorities to keep MF Husain’s work out of the now-in-session India Art Summit. The Sahmat also offers the citizens of Delhi an opportunity to view MF Husain’s work in images at Sahmat office during the three days of the Summit.

In support of Sahmat statement and the action, Uddari offers to make available on the Net, some of the images of MF Husain’s work on display at Sahmat.

On Husain being kept out of India Art Summit

Delhi 21.8.2008

We are surprised and unhappy at the decision of the organisers of the first India Art Summit to exclude the works of MF Husain from the displays of all the participating galleries from across India. The Art summit and three day fair, which opens at the Trade Fair venue in Delhi on the 22nd, is also supported by the Ministry of Culture.

While the organisers may have made this decision out of a fear of attacks or protests against the work of Husain, by giving in to such threats by extremist political groups, they are playing into the hands of these forces. It is the duty of the state and the police to protect our institutions and citizens against threats of violence and surely the Trade Fair authorities and the Delhi police are capable of confronting any such threat. An earlier exhibit by Husain continued at the India International Centre last December under just such assurances by the Delhi police.

For the artists community, Husain is the reigning father-figure, commanding enormous respect. In fact, Husain has been single-handedly responsible for putting Indian art on the world map and equally responsible for creating the world market boom in Indian art, without which such a summit and fair would not be taking place in Delhi at this moment. It is therefore deeply ironical that his work is being excluded by dictate.

We request the organisers to rethink this decision. In solidarity with Husain, Sahmat will show Images of his work on all three days of the summit outside its office at 8 Vithalbhai Patel House, Rafi Marg. We invite all the citizens of Delhi and all artists to come view his work at Sahmat.

Ram Rahman, MK Raina, Madan Gopal Singh, Sohail Hashmi, Parthiv Shah, Vivan Sundaram, Indira Chandrasekhar, Geeta Kapur, K Bikram Singh

8, Vithalbhai Patel House, Rafi Marg
New Delhi-110001
Telephone-23711276/ 23351424
Email: sahmat@vsnl.com
More information:
Banned artist misses Delhi’s first art show

Fauzia Rafique

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