Homage to Husain:
This year’s Harvest is a little poignant. The eminent artist M.F. Husain passed away on June 9 this year in London. For us he was a very special artist indeed as at least one of his works figured in each one of our previous exhibitions and he too responded by making a special work for Arushi Arts. This time we have his ‘Four Seasons’, a beautiful work of his horse series and a woman and bull. For us, it is a concretization not only of his exquisite brush work, powerful lines and profound sense of colour, but also of his facility with the narrative, his portrayal of the inspiration he drew from the animal form which he later became famous for, the link he made with similar forms in Chinese art and finally, the role of the animal in the battle of Karbala as the mount of Hassan and Husain, so familiar to us as the decorated riderless mount in the Moharram processions shias take out each year in many parts of the country, but which are participated in by different communities traditionally.
As with Moharram, so with Holi, the Ram Lila and Dassera. Although Husain was from a Muslim family, he lived in the ancient town of Pandharpur with its temple of Vishnu, whose pilgrims provided a livelihood for people of different religions, including Husain’s grandfather, who made metal lamps. This upbringing as the member of a craftsman’s family gave Husain a deep understanding of Hinduism as a lived religion with its easy-going familiarity with the gods as distinct from the rule-book religiosity of the “people of the book”. The playfulness, familiarity and deeply personal relation with the divine heroes and heroines of epic-based religions permeated his very being, giving his artistic expression the ecstasy of the bhakta or the sufi.
Nor was he alone in this. We have the same sense of participatory belonging in Ghulam Rasool Santosh’s symbolic tantric art or the geometric spirituality of S.H. Raza. All three of these artists share this remarkable quality of cross-identification among believers of different faiths in India. It is only a step sideways then to the non-figurative as in the work of Ram Kumar, Shobha Broota, Amitava Das and Mona Rai, or figuration as a receptacle for the inner feelings an artist seeks to express as in the works of Francis Newton Souza, Akbar Padamsee, Somenath Hore, Paritosh Sen, Anjolie Ela Menon, Krishen Khanna, K.S. Kulkarni, Manu Parekh and Arpana Caur. This small group reflects the core of what we could think of as the germplasm of what eventually flowered as an art that has emerged as one of the more recognizable trends above gimmickry after the European modernists.
This was only possible as the most influential of these artists were swept up by the composite struggle against British colonialism involving patriots from different backgrounds: workers, peasants and the intelligentsia professing different religions, speaking different languages, and coming from different traditions which blended as one in the national movement. This gave us our pluralist social set-up and a composite culture that brought different streams together as one.
So, in spite of the blends of different schools of art and styles, we still find a powerful response among the younger artists to a vibrant art based on the masterly interplay of colour, line and texture; and in the case of sculpture of mass, surface and the inter-relation of mass and space. This brings us back to the universal concerns that affect all modern art. But then, the rounded female figure, rural and urban labouring men, sacred spaces, animal forms human in their impact and composite images drawn from our folk and modernist traditions become the concretely recognizable stepping stones in the flow of life we bring home to you as the harvest of the year. This time our harvest is dedicated to Husain and our composite culture, the desire to be free of slavery and the will to go into the future on one’s own terms, as he did. It is a special theme for a special show.
Art Critic, Writer.