The New York Times Profiles India’s Most Famous Artist
Half a profile of the spry 93-year-old artist as his passes his productive days in Dubai, and half a look at the volatile identity politics that has made Husain a controversial figure, Somini Sengupta wrote this profile of M.F. Husain that was published on the front page of today’s New York Times.
The rise of an intense brand of identity politics, with India’s many communities mobilizing for political power, has intensified the problem. An accusation that a piece of art or writing is offensive is an easy way to whip up the sentiments of a particular caste, faith or tribe, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an Indian political scientist, points out. He calls it “offense mongering.” [ . . . ]
Even threats of violence from offended parties are a powerful deterrent. In Mumbai, formerly Bombay, where Mr. Husain lived for most of his life, a recent exhibition on Indian masters did not include his work. Nor did India’s first modern art fair, held in New Delhi in August. The same week in the same city, a small show featuring reproductions of Mr. Husain’s work was vandalized.
Of Mr. Husain’s exceptionally large body of work — at least 20,000 pieces, he guesses — there are three that have angered his foes. Two are highly stylized pencil drawings of Durga, the mother goddess, and Saraswati, the goddess of the arts, both faceless and nude. The third is a map of India rendered as a female nude, her head in the Himalayas, a breast jutting out into the Arabian Sea. Mr. Husain insists that nudity symbolizes purity. He has repeatedly said that he had not meant to offend any faith. But one of his paintings, showing a donkey — to the artist, a symbol of nonviolence — at Mecca, created a ruckus among his fellow Muslims.
For more on Husain’s taste for expensive cars and vagabond habits . . . .