People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 40

October 04, 2009

Saalgirah Mubarak: Husain at 94


Ram Rahman


THE seventeenth of September was the 94th birthday of artist M F Husain. He spent it in exile in New York City. But he was honoured by a large gathering of artists, students, academics and admirers at a commemorative event, Husain at 94, conceived and organised by SAHMAT, and held at the M F Husain Gallery at Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, in conjunction with the Jamia Outreach Programme.


SAHMAT asked artists and art students from across the country to make or contribute a small work as a birthday gift to Husain saluting him on this anniversary. These were published in a small book called For Husain at 94, which also includes texts by art historians Geeti Sen, K Bikram Singh and Geeta Kapur. There are also two interviews with Husain in which he articulates his artistic philosophy and influences, and discusses the allegations of blasphemy made against him in the communally motivated agitation launched by the Sangh Parivar and the BJP starting in 1996.


Over 100 eminent and emerging artists contributed work for this exhibit and book, and the gesture was both a salute to Husain as the father-figure of contemporary Indian art, as well as a creative protest against the cynical politics and misuse of the judicial system, which have led to the exile of our country�s oldest and most respected artist. From the sensitive and engaged work the artists sent, it was only too clear that in the arts and academic community there is absolutely no ambiguity in their solidarity and belief in the staggering output of this artist, which recognises the artistic and historical importance of his work in painting, cinema, and also writing.


At Jamia, there were full-day well attended screenings of his feature films Meenaxi � A Tale of Three Cities, Gajagamini and the rarely seen 1967 film Through the Eyes of a Painter. In the evening program introduced by Sohail Hashmi, vice chancellor Najeeb Jung released the book, For Husain at 94 and presented the first copy to Shamshad Husain. This was followed by a lecture by K Bikram Singh chaired by Geeta Kapur. K Bikram Singh traced the cultural roots of Husain�s early years, coming from the very small Suleimani community, and showed how the multi-religious culture that Husain grew up in found expression in his later work, finding more expressive articulation as he matured as an artist. He also expressed his view that Husain � more than any of his contemporaries- painted the peasant and the working class as he had a natural affinity with them, with his own roots.


The students and faculty of fine arts at Jamia also contributed their work along with students of the Delhi College of Art, and even two inmates from Tihar Jail. Husain himself spoke to members of SAHMAT from New York on the telephone in the gallery and thanked the artists, the university and the students for their gesture. The exhibit was up for a week, and has been invited to travel to other cities of India in the next few months.