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In the city Husain loved, a tribute

Maqbool Fida Husain (1915-2011) loved Mumbai; they all say so — family members, close friends, acquaintances. And the feeling was mutual.

mumbai Updated: Dec 10, 2011 01:33 IST
Riddhi Doshi
Riddhi Doshi
Hindustan Times

Maqbool Fida Husain (1915-2011) loved Mumbai; they all say so — family members, close friends, acquaintances. And the feeling was mutual.

After all, it was in Mumbai that Husain went from a lanky 19-year-old from Pandharpur painting film hoardings on the streets of Grant Road for four annas per square foot to one of the country’s most popular artists ever.

Then, it all went horribly wrong. Despite a Padma Shri (1966), Padma Bhushan (1973) and Padma Vibhushan (1991), the artist was forced into voluntary exile after right-wing radicals began violently protesting against his depiction of Hindu goddess in the nude. He fled to Dubai and London; he never returned.

“We let him go,” says veteran artist Akbar Padmsee. “We could have prevented that if we had stood by him.”

Now, after a six-year gap, the city of his dreams is finally showcasing once again the works of its most popular artist.

Six months after his death on June 9, the Institute of Contemporary Indian Art (ICIA) gallery will showcase 20 works at Kala Ghoda as part of a four-week solo show, starting December 19.

“None of Husain’s goddess paintings will be displayed,” says Tushar Sethi of ICIA.

A number of Husain treasures will, however, be on display, including a wooden horse that Husain created in the 1950s, when his first daughter was born; a rare silk screen painting from the 1970s; a painting of a village scene that belonged to Jawaharlal Nehru in 1960 and several others works on canvas and paper, each priced between Rs 5 lakh and Rs 2.5 crore.

Security will be heavy at the venue; all visitors will be frisked.

“Given the history, we want to make sure everything goes smoothly,” says Sethi.

In the recent past, the Tao art gallery in Worli received threat calls from a right-wing political party when it displayed a Husain painting as part of a group exhibition three years ago. The three-year-old India Art Festival (previously the India Art Summit) informally requested all participating galleries not to display Husain works, citing security reasons. And a recent screening of Husain’s film, Through the Eyes of a Painter, at the International Film Festival of India in Goa was rescheduled after organisers received threat calls; it was later screened after additional police security was called in.

There will be a strong police presence at the ICIA gallery too, but Sethi believes all the trouble will eventually be well worth it.

“Husain was a legend,” he says. “One of the most prolific Indian artists, he created 30,000 to 50,000 paintings in his lifetime, yet his works are in great demand. He is the reason the average Indian has any idea what modern art is. It is time his works were shared once again.”

First Published: Dec 10, 2011 01:32 IST