Brush stroke of an artist…

Over the last few weeks I have visited a few galleries, spent a fair bit of time at the Louvre in Paris and in London at the Victoria and Albert museum,the national gallery, the Queen’s gallery amongst a few. Understanding or trying to understand what the artist is trying to portray is not an easy feat. The viewer’s mind is not synchronized with the artist’s and there is a good chance that the interpretations of their work can be very far off the mark. At the Louvre hangs over six thousand paintings from the late thirteenth century to the mid-nineteenth century. Francis I amassed Italian paintings and works of artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Titian, the La Caze collections and Napoleon III’s purchase of the Campana collection contribute to the Louvre’s treasures. Nudity is rampant in most of the work and portrayal of mythological gods and goddesses in compromising postures is not uncommon. Paintings of Michelangelo Merisi ( Caravage ) who started an artistic revolution by injecting immediacy and drama into religious themes, where the virgin is painted as a corpse and the apostles are burdened with grief is displayed in these museums amongst a myriad other such work.

Freedom of expression via painting, writing, acting or any other form cannot be snatched away by tyrannical and oppressive elements. There must exist a maturity and acceptance of the artist’s work. A true artist creates work for himself first and for public consumption later. If the order is reversed, the artist is not true to his senses. Each mind perceives a painting in its own way and the mind has the right to reject or accept the artist’s work but it does not have the right to suppress the work of the artist. MF  Hussain has had a fixation on Hindu Gods and Godesses and used them in his various works. Nude paintings of the hindu gods have created a furore and Hussain has been on the receiving end of the viewer’s whip from the hindu community. Legal action and death threats forced Hussain to go into exile. I remember seeing him a few years back in the lawns of Bangalore Club, at that time his fixation was on Madhuri Dixit, nobody had a problem with that and most certainly not Madhuri Dixit.

Hindu art has displayed sensuality from time immemorial. The ancient temples at Khajuraho have erotic carvings on the outer walls bearing nymphs in compromising postures. There are no such erotic carvings near the main deity. The main deity in all hindu temples reside in the sanctum sanctorum, a safe distance away from the erotica.The artist of the yesteryears showcased sensuality as unacceptable to the Gods and he also showcased sensuality to be abandoned by the worshipper, at the doorstep, before entering the sanctum sanctorum. This is how the audience have interpreted the artist’s work. If the artist had a completely different opinion, we would never know. The deemed interpretation in many ways became a dogmatic belief.

Bending and experimenting with religious beliefs through art work via paintings and written work is not acceptable to the wider audience in many countries. Salman Rushdie tried and faced the flak. He was persecuted in a similar way that Hussain has been. Within India, a select audience accept Hussain and Rushdie and see them as artists who have the right to experiment. An artist converts his free flow of thoughts into tangibility on a piece of canvas or paper or a wood board or through dance or drama. The western audience are more accepting of art work of all forms. The difference in thinking and acceptance is like chalk and cheese when it comes to art. There is respect given to the artist’s freedom of expression. In fact, artists are the upholders of the true meaning of democracy. If we cannot accept art work in its free form, we are not a democratic set up, we stray towards a totalitarian one.

Hussain has taken up citizenship of a country which is not democratic but totalitarian. There is word that the Kingdom of Qatar have done a multi million deal with Hussain for opening a museum where he can showcase his work “freely”. Will Quatar let Hussain experiment with islamic themes and subjects in his art work? Will Qatar allow Hussain to showcase such work in the proposed museum?Most surely not. Hussain is 95 and does not have too many years left of his life. Returning to India would be difficult given the number of cases pending against him. He has spent 95 years of his glorious life living as an Indian. I wished he would die as one too, even if it were not to be on Indian soil. India made him who he is today, for good or for bad? More good than bad I think, albeit even if the bad cannot be shunned, the good cannot be forgotten either. The controversies started in his life as late as 1996, he was already 81 by then, famous and India’s highest paid painter. Legally he may be a Qatar citizen, but he has disappointed a country that supported him for a great part of his 95 years. At the age of 95 he has made a democratic choice for a totalitarian country. Is this another freedom of choice that we have to accept? Hussain has chosen a multi million dollar deal and traded his citizenship for it. What is the value he attached to his Indian citizenship I wonder. Not much, is my answer.We may be disappointed with his choice, but we have to accept it. There is little point in forced or false loyalties. True loyalties always stand the test of time.


31 Responses to “Brush stroke of an artist…”

  1. Bravo! Pretty bold this time.. Alas! He’d to make such a move after a long period of time as being Indian and the soul of his works do belong in here, though it wouldn’t be a bright shade in the minds of his lovers across the globe.
    Wish Indians could be more tolerant towards art, wish he’d a fair flair of belongingness.

    • Raghav – Thanks.Being brave is a good thing.:) Yes, I am trying to say precisely the same thing. we need to be accepting of art forms and artists need to be clear on their loyalties.

  2. Sameer Chouhan Says:

    आदरणीय शर्मिलाजी,

    मकबूल फ़िदा हुस्सेन की आत्म-कथा (Autobiography) अभी-अभी पूरी पढ़ी है मैंने. उन्होंने अपनी ‘कोंट्रोवर्सी’ का भी जवाब दिया है उसमें….समय मिले तो पढियेगा…..अच्छा लिखा है…२००२ का एडिशन है….

    एक बार ‘पोपुलेशन’ वाले सब्जेक्ट पर आपने मुझे रेस्पोंस दिया था, शायद आपको याद होगा…..

    आशा है आपको हिंदी आती होगी…

    शेष फिर,

    समीर चौहान

    • Sameerji, is book ke recommendation ke liye bahuth shukriya. Mai zaroor paddongi. Muje woh population note ke bare mein yaad hain. Uske baare mein bahooth kuch baath karni hai or mai zaroor karoongi. dhanyavadh.

  3. I have been an NRI for over 20 years. Loved the lifestyle, the comfort, the luxuries, the cleanliness(!) was a beautiful second home. But despite all, there was always this restlessness to come back and be where I belong.

    Indians do apply for citizenship in other countries. I have friends scattered all over the world, many now green card holders, Singapore citizens etc. They probably are thinking of their personal benefits and gains to nationality and loyalty; they just dont make headlines.:)

    Losing M.F. doesnt seem like much to me compared to the about of brain drain we have had over the decades. I mean, even kids draw better decently-clothed and easily comprehendible pics compared to him!:P India should never feel let down by an old man’s selfish thoughts for a safe life, be it in Qatar or Timbuktu!:)

    • Aish – well said!

      • Sharmila,

        Thanks. Patriotism shines through in all your writings – that’s what I admire the most about your blog. Keep it up and God bless.



    • Aish – Thanks a ton..Like you I proudly hold on to my Indian passport.

    • You are living in a different country ,not for just basic things but to fullfil your greed.Then also you are very much patriot …Appreciate it..This type of patriotism is demolishing India.These NRIs will never think of the poor people in India.They will see India in the eyes of western countries.

  4. Sharmila, we are the largest functional democracy and pluralistic society in the world. And that is our greatest identity. But sadly we are fast becoming less accommodative, less tolerant and more aggressive and fundamentalist in our approach. I feel Hussain’s decision to give up his Indian citizenship is a blot on us.

    • Melwyn – I agree we need to be open to art and all it’s forms and appreciate artists. But, I think Hussain’s allegiance to other country is not befitting a man who has had it good for a great part of his 95 years and he owes it to the country he was born in.

    • Violeti Says:

      Very very very well said Melwyn ………. M F Husain had got so much glory to Indian Art……… But, some miscreants (none of them true Indians) with divisive agenda, political motives, made hay………. As long as the so called Tolerant Hindu keeps looking on…….these miscreants will keep doing this to India & Indian Citizen……..

      The Great Artist is gone now……….
      Let him rest in peace in a better place……… Heaven……. where he will be respected by whichever God is there………

      I am a Hindu by birth……….. I respect my religion……….. But, as every true Hindu would do ………. I respect each and every thing created by God on this earth………. I am a Earthian by heart………..

  5. Hindi,youuuuuuu WOW…..But I forgot to write it properly now.Studied it till eight standard then opted for Arabic later.Let me know what was the clarification made in his biography when you read it……

    Was my way of fulfilling the need of the hour justifiable?????????

  6. Freedom and Democracy are quite over rated terms these days. In name of that anyone speaks,acts and behaves the way they want should not be acceptable anyway. we all live in a society and it has its norms to follow no matter where and which part of the world one lives.
    Vulgarity in name of Art,in name of modernization shouldn’t be encouraged any time. Nudity and Sex is quite a natural thing. However it depends on how it has been represented by an artist or a writer and whether it has been perceived by the public in same manner or not.
    it certainly is bad on his part to give up the citizenship of India when he earned whatever name,fame & money he has now, living in India/as citizen of India.
    if he would have left India earlier in his youth and made his fortune there and accepted citizenship of that XYZ country, then its a totally different ball game all together.

    • MonaLisa – Valid points. But, I think it is not always possible to interpret the work the same way as the artist. I find it very difficult to do so and I guess this is what causes the furore most times. But I concur your thoughts on Hussains decision. India made him who he is.

  7. Sharmila,

    I feel an artist shouldnt hurt the sentiments of a religion through his work. In a Raja Ravi Varma painting, we see beauty, be it of our Hindu Gods or just a skimpily clad woman; we dont feel insulted.

    I guess we can take solace in the fact that M.F. was conferred and did not apply for a citizenship. I doubt his controversial work would ever allow him to live in India peacefully though. Artists should have a freedom of expression, but shouldnt there be a line drawn somewhere?

    • Aish – From an Indian perspective you are very right. We are emotional and sensitive people without a doubt. This is why acceptance is never easy and at times we tend to take offence at all things. I love Raja Ravi Varma and have a few of his paintings, profound beauty indeed. My favorite still remains his “hans damayanti” painting.

  8. It’s quite surprising that he had/has wildest imagination only for Hindu Gods and Goddesses.what about his own religion!? what about so many other religions !? what does he not dare to touch that area? Besides he seems very obviously, hung up to certain areas of female anatomy like a lustful creep. if you see Madhuri’s pic he painted……
    what exactly he is expressing that way !?
    He certainly should draw a line. no wonder ppl were so against him in India.

  9. No clue about that Sharmila. probably male fans enjoyed it and female fans just ignored it considering it A silly Old Man’s Fantasy.

  10. I really don’t think it’s fair to critcise M F Hussein for opting for another country’s citzenship when his own country forced him out on the pretext of art. A mockery of his entire life was made when he was forced to leave India. He definitly won’t be able to to portray his creativity in its full form living in a fundamentalist Islamic country.
    Bottom line, my point is that M F Hussein was forced to do what he did by accepting Qatar’s offer because an artist cannot simply let his/her creativity die out until he/she is dead. Hence all my support to the legend. I’m sure that even now, given a chance he’d leave everything behind to die a peaceful death in his own country.

    • Himanth – Thanks for your comment. I think it would have made a little more sense if he opted for citizenship for the UK or US going by the freedome he wishes to have. Qatar still does not make sense to me.

  11. Sharmila,
    I posted my comment with reference to your statments highlighting M F Hussein’s disrespect for the Indian citizenship. Obviously a citizen with the west would have helped him a lol more.


  12. hi sharmila,
    i totally agree vit vatevr u said…viewers mind is not always synchronised vit the artists..but opting 4 qatar’s citizenship, i tink he had his reasons…now dat v knw he ws engaged in 3 major projects ovr der…..
    but i tink he always loved india..after all 2 love a country, u need not b living in it..:)

    • I am sure he loved India, India made Hussain who he is today and his long association with India cannot be swept under the mat. Thanks Manu for your comment.

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