Saturday, March 06, 2010

Hussain speaks

Since his move to Qatar, Husain has given several interviews. In this one, he sends this message to "his supporters":

... [Y]our supporters have been very agitated over your supposed victimization. Please comment.

I’m sorry to say this, but this is the media and those with their own interests who’re putting words in my mouth. I don’t feel victimized. I’m really happy with all I have. Yes, it’s sad that things are this way and I haven’t been able to set foot in my own country. But that’s because of a few people and one can’t blame an entire democracy, a great country, for that. I’ve travelled enough to know that India offers great freedom in all spheres. We are a country of living art—go to the villages and small towns and you’ll know what I mean.

Contrary to the framing by the Mint interviewer, the anguish of "his supporters" is not just about Husain. It is really about the vicious and vile environment that makes life difficult not just for icons such as Husain, Nasreen and Rushdie, but everyone with an original and unpopular thought / idea.

I don't know if I would count myself as Husain's "supporter" -- I can't even claim to know much about the man's work. But I'm glad that his wealth and fame afford him the option of living elsewhere -- away from his homeland whose government and courts are unwilling and/or incompetent to put down violent acts by loons and madmen. This part of the interview is revealing:

Several government officials issued guarantees of state protection after you announced the conferment of Qatari nationality. Did that make you reconsider your decision at all? Were you contacted by any government official personally?

I haven’t had direct or official correspondence with anyone in the Indian government for the last three years. Two years ago, the home ministry which was then under Shivraj Patil, was even considering prosecuting me under section 295A (of the Indian Penal Code), which deals with outraging religious feelings of a community. It is clear that these guarantees of protection were just made to save face. But I have no complaints. As I said, I’m not an activist. This is a personal decision I’ve taken for my peace of mind.


  1. gaddeswarup said...

    There were quite a few of his paintings in TIFR, Bombay. For a number of years, they were displayed on the walls there and big one near the lifts on the library floor ( I vaguely remmber seein there working on one of his paintings). I saw them almost everyday for 15 years. I think many of them had Rajasthani themes and I thought they were nice. But I do not know much about painings except some appeal to me. You can probably still see them in TIFR by request if they are not displayed.

  2. Raj said...

    "I don't know if I would count myself as Hussain's "supporter" -- I can't even claim to know much about the man's work."

    I am happy to hear this, Abi. When you linked to an article by Salil Tripathi saying that he had got it right, I was a little disappointed.

    I have seen the entire series of paintings of Husain's ( he spells his name with only one 's' incidentally) and I see an unmistakable pattern. He has wilfuly and consistently tried to depict Hindu icons in an indecent manner that the context did not seem to require at all. He may have done this to sensationalise and to provoke and ensure better visibility for and higher sale of his art.

    This is my view, and I concede that it may not be fair or unbiased. But what I do want the Salil Tripathis of the world to concede that only the Supreme Court is the final arbiter on these matters and if any Indian feels upset he has the right to exhaust all legal channels to bring the artist to book. ( vandalism or personals attacks are not to be condoned) If thousands of injured Indians go to court, it may be a legitimate outpouring of sentiment. To suggest that this amounts to harassing or hounding an artist and impinging on his artistic freedom is ridiculous. When operating in the public space, the man must have the stomach to put up a proper defence. Or, as he has plenty of money, leave the country for a safe haven- which is what he did.

  3. kuffir said...

    'away from his homeland whose government and courts are unwilling and/or incompetent to put down violent acts by loons and madmen'

    absolutely. neatly expressed.

  4. Abi said...

    @Swarup: Thanks for the pointer to TIFR's collection. I'll remember that when I get a chance to visit that place (I've never been there).

    @Raj: Please don't misrepresent Salil Tripathi's piece; he builds his case on much more than lawsuits: "After a decade in which he faced arrest warrants and was threatened, his canvases defaced, his family harassed, his property attached, his personality ridiculed, art galleries showing his art attacked, and his art deliberately and disingenuously mischaracterized, he has decided that it is enough."

    If all that Husain's opponents did was to make their case in our courts [which have, in the end, ruled in the artist's favor], Husain's move would have generated a different kind of discussion from the one we are having now -- and it would not be so full of sympathy for the man.

    But the threat of violence is something else; I don't think anybody -- and especially a 94-year old man -- can afford to underestimate such threats from people with a history of illegal acts of vandalism and worse.

    Thanks for pointing out the error in spelling his name; I have gone back and corrected it in my other posts as well.