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Indian art: The sensuous and the sacred

Uma Nair tries to delve into the intricacies of MF Husain's treatment of nudity in art.

india Updated: May 17, 2006 11:30 IST

The recent ravings of political groups as well as the centre's stance on MF Husain's "Bharat Mata" is a perfect example of drawing you into the moral dictates of who makes art and for whom, who responds to art and who crucifies it at the altar of politico-religious vendetta.

Years ago, I was asked to do a cover story on gods and goddesses and recall Husain sitting in the lobby of the capital's ITC Maurya Sheraton and sketching what he called Earth Goddess - a nude flying through the air with a babe between her thighs.

I also recall Professor Amartya Sen commenting that it was a "brilliant evocation in the art of the abstracted contour".

For Husain a nude is a symbolism.

It is the metaphor of all that is created, celebrated and venerated.

His nudes for over six decades are lyrically lithe contours - a balletic choreography of grace and fluidity.

And there lies the paradoxical tension that animates Husain's entire career as an artist.

The nude has been his composite subject matter and its contours have been the lingua franca of a gorgeously sensuous aesthetic.

Of course Maqbool Fida Husain has been a compulsively provocative artist, and his series over the years have been the kind that could give your Victorian sensitivities an aerobic workout.

For Husain the nude is the subject matter, and there is nothing unsettling about it. It is also the nature of Husain's involvement.

Husain has never been the classic strait-laced artist who drops in on different sorts of newsworthy or social situations - the riots or the killings somewhere, say - and creates a work from a concerned distance.

Husain is an artist with an eye for the powerful visual metaphor.

Years ago, his Andhra cyclone series had many nudes, they were brilliant comments on the abstracted terrain of the agony and tribulations of the life cycle of birth and death.

The main impulse in Husain's nudes has been an urge to translate the dictums of the feminine fervour, of the vitality of the fertility of birth rather than the decadent degrading suggestions meted out by factions of blinded people who are all protesting.

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