An Indian Civilizational Perspective

MF Hussain's Crooked Art

All forms of art are genuine expressions of love. When a dancer dances, she forgets her own self, and her love translates into a passion that can be felt by all those witnessing a performance. Anything which is not done with absolute love expressed with complete abandon – without fear and without care (both of which go together, you cannot be without fear if you care, and vice versa) – is a business and a compromise but certainly not Art.

One may not want to hate equally, but one should be able to love equally. It is no test of greatness to hate one’s own kid, if one’s wont is to hate her neighbor’s. However, it is surely an evidence of divinity, if a mother can share her love with her neighbor’s kid as much as she showers on her own. After all, every one can love one’s own and hate anothers.

When a truly great piece of art is created, it is created out of love. A love which knows no care.. and is therefore fearless. There is no shame and therefore, there should be no fear in love.

It is in this very simplistic context of Art and Love, that I have always viewed the very contentious issue of Expression and its Freedom. If an art is expression of love then it seeks no Freedom. “Freedom” is not an occurence, it is a characteristic…. a quality of the artist. He can live and die for his expression of love and how he expresses it.

Recently, according to news reports, MF Hussain, called “India’s greatest Artist” has renounced his Indian citizenship and accepted Qatar’s passport. Allegedly, it is because he was tired of persecution by the Hindus. As a gift to him, Qatar’s Royal family is willing to spend millions to create a museum for his paintings. Very obviously, what was unwelcome in “Hindu” India, will be very welcome in the Islamic Republic of Qatar.

Displaying his paintings that offended people of a certain group under patronage of a regime which, as a matter of state policy, is fanatically opposed to that group, is not a showcase of one’s Freedom but an assertion of one’s Fanaticism!

Secularism is defined in two ways – Western and Indian. Western definition is based on Atheism – where if you don’t believe in any “god” or religion equally, you are considered secular. Indian definition, probably prompted by the verse from the Vedas which translates into “One Truth, but is achieved by wise differently”, has been to respect ALL religions / beliefs equally.

Artists, with respect to their expression in art, should not have anything to do with Religion. One can paint a Jesus with as much love as one can paint Nanak or Krishna.

I have often wondered, that if Hussain’s art was truly a product of love – specially in the way he expressed his conceptualization of Goddesses and Gods, then:

1. Why did he fear his life and run away?
2. Why couldn’t he express his “Love” for other religions as well, say Islam and paint Aisha or Mohammad with the same abandon as he had painted Durga? Specially in the face of heavy criticism and “persecution” by the Hindus?

Love of lover stands all tests. That of a con-artist, however, wilts at the first bump on the road.

If his paintings of Hindu Gods were indeed an expression of Love, as Hussain and his friends assert, and not of Hatred or Fanaticism, as the Shiv Sainiks had alleged for last so many years, then there was every reason for Hussain to take up his brush to show that he could express his Love for every religious figure in the same way. If Nude Durga was the epitomy of beauty, then so should have been a Nude Aisha! Loving everyone Equally is a Divine quality, while Fanaticism or Hatred (Equal or Selective) is surely a sign of the Demonic.

Unless his act of painting Nudes of Hindu religious figure was mischievious to begin with, one would see no harm in him having painted Islamic / Abrahamic figures similarly.

Just as Freedom is an inherent quality, Fear is also from within. When you believe in what you do completely and unequivocally with clear and true conscience, there is no reason for you to be fearful. When there are self doubts as to your own motives, then fear is a natural result.

On March 26, 922 a Sufi Saint – Mansur Al Hallaj was crucified in Baghdad after 11 years of continuous torture. He was the first, and probably the only to publicly claim in the Islamic world that “I am God” or Anā l-Ḥaqq. Caliph Al-Muqtadir had ordered his execution because of heresy. Mansur’s love was so high and genuine and he had so completely lost his own identity / ego and merged with what he called “God”, that he saw nothing else. No matter how much anyone tortured him, he continued saying what he experienced as the continuous Truth. Until he was eventually killed!

True love is fearless and a personal experience. If you believe in yourself, death holds no fear. If criticism is your greatest worry, then you better not be Trading love.

One last thing, the issue of Danish cartoonist, perhaps has been the most defining one in terms of Freedom of Expression in our times, around the world. Even more than the Nude Goddesses had outraged Hindus, Fully Clothed Cartoon of Mohammad had outraged the Muslims.

While Hussain was not appreciative of his persecution by Hindus and wanted to uphold his Freedom; he somehow and quite strangely never seemed to have expressed any comraderie for his fellow Danish artists. Or maybe I completely missed his statement in the news, of solidarity for Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten’s unknown artists (they were drawn after a call for illustration of Mohammad by the paper)?

If defense of a Nude Durga was justified and laudable, then surely defense of Fully Clothed Mohammad had as much merit. And who could understand and empathize with the plight of the Danish artists than Hussain himself? However, if a Fully Clothed Mohammad was an act of a mischievious mind, then drawing of a Nude Durga surely was not as charitable as it was made out to be.

Secular (Indian version) and Multicultural societies can ONLY survive in Equality and through Love; Selectivity begets Fanaticism. Hussain, unfortunately, seems to have chosen the latter yet again.

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14 Comments
  1. Katrina says

    I totally agree by the views set forth by the author of this article, but a man like him cannot be attracted with money or fame, there has to be something more disturbing to make him take this step.

    What about Shahrukh Khan and Shiv Sena? Are we gonna say anything about them?

  2. Katrina says

    I totally agree by the views set forth by the author of this article, but a man like him cannot be attracted with money or fame, there has to be something more disturbing to make him take this step.

    What about Shahrukh Khan and Shiv Sena? Are we gonna say anything about them?

  3. kalahari says

    I just happened to read your blog and count me on what you have mentioned about MF Hussain. In fact, I live here in the ME and happen to encounter many minds who feel that we have to think out of our nutshell and act like global citizens and after all art is an expression of artist’s mind. Easier said than done because it is the hindu divinity in question and not Islam or Christanity painting.
    If MF Hussain is patronising art through his painting of a nude goddess then his work should feature the same when he portrayed his mother and sister. Be it who you are, and however secular one’s mind is – leave divinity where it belongs too!!!

  4. AKGURTOO says

    I hv not seen the original hussain paintings. However I hv seen their reproductions IN various hindu groups, opposing HUSSAIN!!!
    HUSSAIN HAS BEEN AN OVERAGE BRAT INDULGING HIS FANCY.
    HE HAS PAINTED NUDE MEN / WOMEN, & GIVEN SOME OF THEM NAMES OF HINDU GODS, GODESSES.
    I AM A BORN HINDU. I DID NOT FIND THEM REPULSIVE.OUR GODS HAVE VERY THICK SKIN & DO NOT GET BOTHERED BY SUCH IDIOTS. ALSO I PRESUME HUSSAIN PAINTED THESE AS A MUSLIM HINDU OF HINDUSTAN ALSO KNOW AS INDIA. INDIAN-&- HINDU BEING INTERCHANGEABLE.

  5. kalahari says

    I just happened to read your blog and count me on what you have mentioned about MF Hussain. In fact, I live here in the ME and happen to encounter many minds who feel that we have to think out of our nutshell and act like global citizens and after all art is an expression of artist’s mind. Easier said than done because it is the hindu divinity in question and not Islam or Christanity painting.
    If MF Hussain is patronising art through his painting of a nude goddess then his work should feature the same when he portrayed his mother and sister. Be it who you are, and however secular one’s mind is – leave divinity where it belongs too!!!

  6. AKGURTOO says

    I hv not seen the original hussain paintings. However I hv seen their reproductions IN various hindu groups, opposing HUSSAIN!!!
    HUSSAIN HAS BEEN AN OVERAGE BRAT INDULGING HIS FANCY.
    HE HAS PAINTED NUDE MEN / WOMEN, & GIVEN SOME OF THEM NAMES OF HINDU GODS, GODESSES.
    I AM A BORN HINDU. I DID NOT FIND THEM REPULSIVE.OUR GODS HAVE VERY THICK SKIN & DO NOT GET BOTHERED BY SUCH IDIOTS. ALSO I PRESUME HUSSAIN PAINTED THESE AS A MUSLIM HINDU OF HINDUSTAN ALSO KNOW AS INDIA. INDIAN-&- HINDU BEING INTERCHANGEABLE.

  7. Desh says

    Thanks, Kalahari, for your views and taking the time to read the blog! Its important that behind the facade of secular noises, we look deep within this layer of our society to see how much it stinks!

  8. Desh says

    Thanks, Kalahari, for your views and taking the time to read the blog! Its important that behind the facade of secular noises, we look deep within this layer of our society to see how much it stinks!

  9. Janhavi says

    I found voice to my wounded feelings in your blog.Thank you. With such disheartening media,so called intellectuals & politicians with zero dignity & respect for our own faith & feelings ; I was literally feeling like screaming stop hurting me,pls! Just because I am tolerant of other religions,doesn’t make me vulnerable. I might outgrow my patience!!! And genuinely,I sometime do feel like.

    Your srokes are balanced & matured.Thanks again for lending me your voice.

  10. Janhavi says

    Katrina,Pls do not deviate. The article’s intention is very clear.

  11. Janhavi says

    I found voice to my wounded feelings in your blog.Thank you. With such disheartening media,so called intellectuals & politicians with zero dignity & respect for our own faith & feelings ; I was literally feeling like screaming stop hurting me,pls! Just because I am tolerant of other religions,doesn’t make me vulnerable. I might outgrow my patience!!! And genuinely,I sometime do feel like.

    Your srokes are balanced & matured.Thanks again for lending me your voice.

  12. Janhavi says

    Katrina,Pls do not deviate. The article’s intention is very clear.

  13. Desh says

    Hi Janhavi – totally agree with you. Thanks for the kind words!

  14. Desh says

    Hi Janhavi – totally agree with you. Thanks for the kind words!

Comments are closed.

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