Maqbool Fida Husain, the country’s best known living artist, turned 94 in Dubai on Thursday, living in exile.
A ‘creative protest’ against the factors that led to his self-imposed exile in 2006 was organised by artists, friends, students and faculty from Jamia Millia Islamia on the occasion.
An exhibition of works inspired by and celebrating the renowned artist was held at the gallery named after him — the MF Husain Art Gallery, in Jamia.
“Artists have not forgotten him, even if politicians continue to hound him,” was the event’s message, said Ram Rahim, of the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat), that organised the exhibition with the Outreach Programme of the university.
Some prominent artists who contributed their works are Anjolie Ela Menon, Subodh Gupta and Ghulam Muhammad Sheikh.
Filmmaker Mira Nair, who started off as a photographer, is showing some of her photos after 30 years. Two Tihar Jail inmates, Rahim said, have made the “poignant gesture” of contributing works, made especially for this exhibition, for the barefoot artist in exile.
Rahim himself is showing a photograph taken in 1993 outside the gallery of Modern Art — Husain sitting with his extended family that includes an entourage of grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
By 11.30 am, a steady stream of Jamia students were trooping in to the show. While some clicked photos on their mobile phones, going from one artwork to another, others huddled around in groups, discussing the artwork. Kamaljit Kaur, a final-year literature student, said: “I’m going to put up these photos (taken on her mobile) on social networking sites.” One of the photos she clicked was that of Hanuman, with Husain’s head, flying over a city.
“Art is not appreciated immediately nor can a question be raised about which one is best,” said Shamim Hanfi, professor-emeritus at the Urdu department of the university, who had brought along his 11-year-old granddaughter.
The show began with a screening of Husain’s films — Gajagamini (2000) starring Madhuri Dixit, Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities (2004), featuring Tabu, and Through the Eyes of a Painter (1966) that won the Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival.
Noted filmmaker and critic K Bikram Singh spoke on Husain’s early years, after his book, Husain at 94, was released by vice-chancellor Najeeb Jung.
Husain had a multi-religious upbringing and painted hundred of scenes from the Ram Lila, which his uncle, unfortunately, gave away to a raddi-wala. In 1936, Husain tried to make a living by painting hoardings in Bombay. Such experiences led Husain to depict ordinary people in his works. “Husain is not just a painter of religious painting but also a painter of ordinary people,” concluded Singh.
Husain, who is in New York, has requested the organisers to auction the works at the show and use the proceeds to educate poor children.
Hopefully, the show will reach him electronically.