The telling legacy of MF Husain

 

I’m delighted that the V&A in London will be hosting a new show of MF Husain’s work this Summer.

I photographed Husain many years ago in his Bombay studio (I’ve previously written about him here and here) and he was as charming as he was prolific. How awful then that his work, a mixture of European Modernism and Indian imagery, is unlikely to be seen again anytime soon in his home country. He had to flee India in 2006 as Hindu militants put a bounty on his head, charging him with “offending religious sentiment”. The London show is, in a sense, a farewell to Husain but perhaps moreover, potentially to the ideas to which his art spoke: of a secular, tolerant India. As India rushes headlong into the clutches of corporations and those that seek to divide it’s people against one another (rigidly defining those who are and who aren’t an ‘acceptable’ Indian), it ironically may take the legacy of an elderly millionaire painter to act as a metaphor for the freedoms that ordinary Indians – indeed perhaps the idea of India itself – are in danger of losing.

 

India - Mumbai - MF Husain (b. 1915, Maharashtra) India's foremost modernist painter at his studio in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). In the 1990s some of Husain's works became controversial because of their portrayal of naked Hindu deities. Charges were brought against him by Hindu Nationalists but were dismissed by the Delhi High Court. Husain dies in exile where his painting continued to command prices of several million dollars at auction.

India – Mumbai – MF Husain (b. 1915, Maharashtra) India’s foremost modernist painter at his studio in Mumbai (formerly Bombay). In the 1990s some of Husain’s works became controversial because of their portrayal of naked Hindu deities. Charges were brought against him by Hindu Nationalists but were dismissed by the Delhi High Court. Husain died in exile but his painting continue to command prices of several million dollars at auction.

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