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M F Husain: Iconic Artist of Indic Legacy

” Nudity, in Hindu culture, is a metaphor for purity.

  Would I insult that which I feel so close to ? ”  – Maqbool Fida Husain.

Maqbool Fida Husain is no more.

Lost in exile, M F Husain did not lose his inherited Indic memes as he was involved in the twin projects on the  History of Indian Civilization and History of Arab Civilization before death snatched him away. Born to a Sulaymani Bohra family in Pandharpur of Maharashtra on September 17, 1915, he evolved from a cinema poster artist to a pre-eminent iconographer of the Indian heritage.

He was influenced by 19th-20th century expressionists German Emil Nolde and Austrian Oskar Kokoschka as much as he was impacted by the Indo-Jewish Amrita Sher-Gil. Though on closely going through his corpus of paintings one gets the feeling that he had far more imbibed the classical subcontinental arts that one cannot miss out the frescoesque or the folksy memes in his paintings. The art of Indian sculpture had its own resonance in the background M F Husain’s paintings wherein he contemplatively fixed in space the ideal woman of Indic traits.

“Madhuri’s body language is so Indian,” observed M F Husain in the context of Gajagamini paintings and film ‘connecting her effortlessly with the woman figurine from Mohenja-Daro, the woman from the frescos and friezes in Ajanta and Khajuraho, the tribal and peasant women from his own native village of Pandharpur and the screen goddesses he lovingly drew during the years he worked as a painter of hoardings.,’ remembers writer Sadanand Menon in The Hindu. I think dancer/choreographer Anita Ratnam had/has captured the ‘defining memes’ of Indic woman as ‘fixed within the canvas space’  by M F Husain when she in another context wrote that : “… Ajanta hips and Ellora breasts are our birthright!”

Truly so – to what writer Pritish Nandy claimed ‘he was as Hindu as any one of us ‘ – M F Husain was the only artist who attempted to explore the entire gamut of the Indic culture. He painted series on Mahabarata and Ramayana. Many beautiful portraits off the pantheon of Indian Gods and Godesses came off his brush. His canvas’ breadth was a reflection of what the Indian sub-continental arts stood for and by. Where did his magnificent horses had come from? “When I was young, I was taken to see a grand procession of mourners during Muharram. They were carrying aloft a tazia, a painted sign of Panja and an effigy of Duldul, the brave horse as a part of the procession lamenting the death of Imam Husain. It is that horse which keeps recurring in all my paintings,” he recollected on Oct.01, 2009.

M F Husain did just what he had wanted to do and that differentially provoked, challenged, agitated, mystified, and exasperated the people. He might have been lionized or reviled, but the truth is he was as writer Sadanand Menon – in The Hindu – observed: “Throughout his career, Husain exposed the moral dilemmas of the nation through a pictorial eclecticism that makes him the contemporary symbolist and fabulist of the nation. The nation though, at the end, painted itself out his canvas.”

His nude paintings of Godesses Parvati, Laxmi and Saraswati folksily captivating and reflecting the purity of the metaphorical essence of the religious iconography. They easily reach out to the public. Why the controversy then? Every epoch gives birth to geniuses and morons; sometimes morons prevail when the ‘learned’ is ignorant. “The ignorance of the learned is dangerous,” pointed out the self-exiled M F Husain in one of his best interviews in TV. He knew where the interpretative flaw lay in the controversy of nude paintings. His nude Bharat Mata was/is evocative. The Supreme Court of India stood by M F Husain! Yet, spineless muddled-thinking politicians let him down.

Voluptuous memes have always been part of Indian art culture and M F Husain is only a product of that time-honored Indic tradition as many other artists in India are. In Indic art, nudity is transparency of the essence of being in its absolute purity wherein the frisson between physical sensuality and metaphysical sanctity is resolved as one leaves behind the physical to partake in the metaphysical whether it is about a singular objet d’art or temple sculptures. M F Husain did not believe in God but he knew the metaphysics of religions across the cultures.

Actually, M F Husain never intended to breech any conventions in the sense of violating ethical/normative perceptible norms but only wanted to evolve through his intuitive perceptions of creativity. He was not in the same league as Ritwik Ghatak or  Chandralekha Prabhudas Patel who dared to cross the lines in the domain of art with inventive creativity that gave rise to more opposers. Yet, M F Husain was targeted by the fundamentalists only because he was a Muslim.

Editor N Ram of The Hindu in his Requiem for M. F. Husain,  writing on Husain’s last days tells us that he was mostly devoted to two large projects, the history of Indian civilisation and the history of Arab civilisation, and that the latter was commissioned by Qatar’s powerful first lady – Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser al Missned, wife of the emirate’s ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani –  to be housed in a Doha museum, observes: “I know no one more genuinely and deeply committed to the composite, multi-religious and secular values of Indian civilisation than M.F.Husain.”

“I am a great lover, I love people where ever I get warmth. In India of course 99 per cent Indians love me and still love me,” said M F Husain while moving to Qatar, “but politics has always had in the history a detrimental effect on creativity. Right from Galileo to Kalidas, all great artists were harassed. Even Neruda, Chaplin, there are several examples.”

Artist Jatin Das ‘The manner in which Husain died reflects a false people in a great nation’ slams hard on the national hypocrisy as much as film-maker Shyam Benegal’s ‘None of our supposed tolerance applied to Husain,. We should hang our heads in shame.’

India mourns Her genius son – Maqbool Fida Husain – who had utmost love and respect for Her all through his life and œuvre and shared them in his own unique way of artistic expression. His work on Indian civilisation – Mohenja-Daro to Mahatma – to whatever extent completed should be made open to the public in India.

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