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A brush with genius
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Kolkata, September 24, 2006
First Published: 06:16 IST(23/9/2006)
Last Updated: 06:16 IST(23/9/2006)

Paintings by Tyeb Mehta and F. N. Souza may command astronomical prices at international auctions, but it is Maqbool Fida Husain’s name that first comes to mind when one thinks of contemporary Indian art. Some hate him, others love him, but no art aficionado has managed to remain indifferent to the self-taught artist who began his career by painting billboards, was one of the founder members of the Progressive Artists Group, and had his first exhibition in 1947.

“I am a creative person and feel that there is no end to creativity. Paintings by Tyeb Mehta and F. N. Souza may command astronomical prices at international auctions, but it is Maqbool Fida Husain’s name that first comes to mind when one thinks of contemporary Indian art. Some hate him, others love him, but no art aficionado has managed to remain indifferent to the self-taught artist who began his career by painting billboards, was one of the founder members of the Progressive Artists Group, and had his first exhibition in 1947.

“I am a creative person and feel that there is no end to creativity. Only 10 per cent of what is inside me has found an expression. Even 10 lives will not be enough for me,” says the artist who turned 91 on September 17.

Husain’s creativity has often landed him in trouble. Like it did earlier this year when he was charged with hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus in a painting depicting the country as a goddess in the nude. This painting was part of the Bharat Mata series he had painted in 1970.

Husain is no stranger to controversy. He has often been charged with being disrespectful to Hindu gods and goddesses in his paintings. In 1996 too, an exhibition of his works in Gandhinagar was vandalised by activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, and there were demonstrations outside his home in Mumbai. Fellow artist Satish Gujral has even gone on record to ask him whether he will be bold enough to treat icons of Islam in the same manner. Though he apologised and withdrew the painting from a charity auction, the experiences have left Husain a bitter man. “India is as much my country but I am deeply hurt that whatever I do or say is twisted to suit individual purposes,” he confessed to an associate in London, where he had gone just before the controversy. Now he is not sure when he will come back. “I have done things that I have believed in. The title of my autobiography, Pandharpur Ka Ek Ladka, sums up my personality. I am a simple man,” he says.

Often accused of being an exhibitionist, has Husain gone a bit too far this time? Away from home, the artist who lists Rembrandt as one of his inspirations, must also be wondering.

Husain’s creativity has often landed him in trouble. Like it did earlier this year when he was charged with hurting the religious sentiments of Hindus in a painting depicting the country as a goddess in the nude. This painting was part of the Bharat Mata series he had painted in 1970.

Husain is no stranger to controversy. He has often been charged with being disrespectful to Hindu gods and goddesses in his paintings. In 1996 too, an exhibition of his works in Gandhinagar was vandalised by activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal, and there were demonstrations outside his home in Mumbai. Fellow artist Satish Gujral has even gone on record to ask him whether he will be bold enough to treat icons of Islam in the same manner. Though he apologised and withdrew the painting from a charity auction, the experiences have left Husain a bitter man. “India is as much my country but I am deeply hurt that whatever I do or say is twisted to suit individual purposes,” he confessed to an associate in London, where he had gone just before the controversy. Now he is not sure when he will come back. “I have done things that I have believed in. The title of my autobiography, Pandharpur Ka Ek Ladka, sums up my personality. I am a simple man,” he says.

Often accused of being an exhibitionist, has Husain gone a bit too far this time? Away from home, the artist who lists Rembrandt as one of his inspirations, must also be wondering.


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