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Brush with trouble

Husain is again under fire over nudity in his art. As his work is taken off an auction, gallery owners question hardliners? attempt to stifle artistic freedom.

india Updated: Feb 08, 2006 03:16 IST
Piyush Roy

Maqbool Fida Husain is back where he finds himself often — in the middle of a controversy over his nudes. This time, he is in the firing line of Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and Vishwa Hindu Parishad over a painting, Bharath Mata, which has a nude woman’s outline resembling the map of India.

The artist had earlier faced the ire of hardline Hindutva groups for portraying goddesses Laxmi, Saraswati and Durga, as well as the revered mythical characters Sita and Draupadi, in the nude.

The latest controversial painting, which featured in an ad for the February 6-8 auction by the Chennai-based Apparaoart Auctions, has already been taken off the sale. However, the controversy refuses to die down as the Samiti has filed a police complaint against Husain.

“We withdrew the painting because, as the event organiser, it’s my job to ensure a smooth show,” says Sharan Apparao, proprietor of Apparaoart Auctions.

Husain could not be reached for his comments, but he is not without his supporters. One of them is Dadiba Pundole, owner of Pundole Art Gallery, known for its collection and frequent showing of Husain’s works. “Mr Husain is intelligent enough to know what is artistic and what is not,” says Pundole. “He doesn’t do anything to upset anybody or to court attention. He paints what he likes, just as a poet writes what he feels. He doesn’t need to justify himself to anybody. The so-called protests are born of ignorance and the urge to comment without understanding.”

Questioning our society’s obsession and embarrassment about nudity, Pundole asks, “Aren’t we all born nude? There is a difference between nudity and vulgarity, and an artist has the good taste to understand that. Even in the case of something vulgar, you accept it or reject it. How can you decide for others what to view and what not to view?”

Apparao adds, “Nakedness was never a taboo in the Indian shastras or history. Cases in point are the Khajuraho sculptures and the Chola bronzes of 5th-6th centuries, which depicted the gods and goddesses in the nude. Nude yogis are quite common at many religious places. Moreover, in art, nudity has never been looked down upon.”

Terming the withdrawal of Bharath Mata as a one-off move, Apparao says, “I am not narrow-minded.” This time, she is withdrawing the work because the protests have coincided with the auction, but next time she would “try to find a solution to such irresponsible objections”. Modern morality, she says “has politicised the issue of nudity.”

First Published: Feb 08, 2006 03:16 IST