(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
June 19, 2011
Husain: Remembering An Artist of People
Husain is now
no more with us. He died in
The reason for that is primarily because works of good art do not fall and rise in price like stocks and shares even though being a celebrity helps in boosting up the market price marginally. Husain’s works command the heights they do because they reflect a unique vision that is close to the life of the mass of our people who were the life-blood of the national movement and who won the admiration of our artists in the way they sacrificed all they had to free our country from imperial slavery and its local slave-drivers, the native princes.
Group, which Husain joined in 1947, represented one such trend.
group disbanded after a few years, its perception is powerfully
his Zameen of 1955, which blends the
issue of land to the tiller with our narrative tradition of cameos with
that reflect the colourful vibrancy of our folk art executed with the
sculptural quality of our Mauryan and Gupta art, as well as Pablo
is interesting how Picasso, a member of the Communist Party, also died
rather than live in Franco’s
him out among
his peers was the way he could innovate with any given aesthetic basis.
a master of all forms of art, from making posters to producing
prints, powerful paintings and even toys. The interlinkages he created
popular, classical and contemporary styles brought his imagery of the
into the context of our modern perspective, rather like Raja Ravi Varma
done for the art of the colonial period. If the chief protagonist of
OF MASS CULTURE
He was in a sense the true voice of his times. Born among the masses, earning a living by his hands, he could enter into the role of an architect for the wealthy, a film-maker for the avant garde, an organiser of events for the glitterati which inappropriately gave him the label of gimmickry and, most of all, he was a generous artist who gifted so many works of his to children and friends that keep cropping up like signboards from all over the world. I mention these because they reflect his true character --- that of reaching out to everyone and earning their love and respect in return, like his close friend Maria who gifted back his works of the 1960s, which he had given her, for the people of India. But his closeness to those in power and the people alike also made him many enemies.
I met him a
times, but his greatest quality was that he never criticised others. He
concerned with his own expression, its development and its acceptance
wide a circuit as possible. He was the chief visual protagonist of
free-floating spirit, a human being with little respect for borders,
just as he
had little respect for barriers of class, religion and tradition. All
were nothing if they did not link larger and larger sections of
together. So, when he accepted Qatari nationality in 2010 it was
because he was
there and welcome, while at home he was faced with harassment, threats
most of all, disruption of his working life. I understand what he meant
heart will always be in
One can agree with the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, that his death was “a national loss” but one cannot help feeling that the failure of the government to tackle the facetious cases against him or to ensure he carry on his work undisturbed at home has also contributed to this loss. Husain understood the ephemeral nature of travel documents for a man on the move across the flow of history. But the people who drove him out of his “beloved land” are responsible for lowering our standards of civilisation in front of prejudice. Those who did not defend him fearing their onslaught will only have themselves to blame for it. In his characteristic generosity, Husain stated, “I have never felt betrayed.”
A man who could invent his own birthday, recreate a mother he never really saw, carry the love and affection of thousands of his fellow Indians and return it as he did, despite a Qatari passport and dying in London, continues to reach out to you and me every time we look at his work and see the joy of Pandharpur, the place where he was born, the Ramayan and Mahabharat series that he did for the Hyderabad collector, Badri Vishal Pitti, that brought the epics alive to so many homes in our cities which had all but forgotten how close these figures are to those we see in life, to the young he gave the glamour of Mumbai, the city he made his name in, and the façade of grandeur of Delhi which patronised him but refused to protect him, can never fade from our memory.
His chronicle of events in history blended with his own perception of myths from the epics, the battle of Karbala, the struggle of the Sikh faith, the last supper of Christ, Munshi Premchand’s Shatranj Ke Khilari set in the events of 1857 around Lucknow, the last years of the British Raj and the fall of Hitler being lampooned in the comedies of Charlie Chaplin. One can never really end the conversation he began over 80 years ago as an artist and which he compressed afresh in every work that he brought to life.
After today the conversational tone of these works will bring him to life before us for years to come with their inclusive vision, love for humanity and a remarkable humility that was both endearing and infectious. It will provide a good guideline for artists of the people to go ahead from his spontaneous positivism to a dialectical vision of the future. At the same time his fate at the hands of those in power should serve as a warning that friends in high places are often more a disadvantage than a help.