Thursday, March 11, 2010

MF Hussain I: Controversy, in all its nakedness

"Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art." — Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso and MF Hussain were the 2 artists specially invited for the famous Sao Paulo Biennial art exhibition in Brazil way back in 1971. Picasso's above quote fits just right in the present context when a stupid controversy (and a few physical attacks) over Hussain's paintings forced the esteemed and gifted artist into self-exile out of India and to hop around the world - Dubai, London and now into Qatar! Now that he took the citizenship of Qatar, the decade old controversy resurfaced. And the debate is on the lines of Free expression Vs Hurting Hindu sentiments. Arguments in favour of 'respecting Hindu sentiments' say Hussain is 'crossing the limits'. Some even go to the extent of accusing him 'sexually depraved'! Those who support Hussain argue that Hindu culture has a rich tradition of nudity and refer Khajurahos and Kumarasambhavas. Before debating, let us have a look at what the issue is in the first place.

What are the 'nudes' we are talking about and what is so 'depraving' about them? Here are some paintings being interpreted.

All the paintings depict Saraswati, Durga and Sita in only contours, not with detailed physical features. The intent seem to be to convey an idea through the outlines rather than to be sexually explicit with physical details. If the intent were to do sexual paintings of Hindu goddesses (which the Hussian critics argue as blasphemous - this is a different debate altogether), there would have been far more distinguishing features rather than dark outlines. You don't need to be an art expert to know that.


Let us briefly examine the contribution of these outlines to the
content here. The painting depicting Sita and Hanuman, we are told is blasphemy as it implies a sexual relation between the two. The painting, if seen for what it is, instead conveys Vayuputra Hanuman's loyalty and tremendous strength through his flight across the skies and over the seas (see how his feet disappear into Vayu). The painting of Durga similarly conveys an idea of shakti (ferocity) and roudram (wrath) by using the image of tiger which is incidentally her vahana. The painting of Saraswati illustrates the goddess of arts and consciousness in the aura she exudes - the veena, the peacock, the fish, the lotus and her flowing hair. Where is 'nudity' here and what is 'depraving'? In each of these paintings, MF Hussain is conveying the very essence of these deities because he is an artist and not a lithographer or printer who reproduces old photographs!

Coming back to the discussion of nudity, I wouldn't get into the discussion of how Hindu deities themselves are represented in our temples and historic places or if there is this concept of nudity in ancient Hindu culture. This would be a diversionary and unrelated discussion and is a huge injustice to MF Hussain's own contribution to representing Hindu iconography with such a deep understanding and affection. Far from being obscene, I see MF Hussain as the vital connect in transferring the Hindu iconography from a traditional, unimaginative one dimensional form to an abstract and stylistic expression, fully tapping into the mythology. So the big debate in MF Hussain issue is not about freedom of expression but about the truth in the accusations that he 'insulted' the Hindu culture. Did he indeed insult Hindu culture or at least have an intent to do so? We can only answer that if we follow Picasso by being neither innocent nor ignorant.

20 comments:

sachin said...

Hey Amar,

This is the third time am posting comment on the blog every time am previewing the comment and closing it unknowingly. Now will not do that. It better explains my feeling on this topic.

Buddy, I should confess am not convinced by that. I feel its not fair or acceptable for any person to cross boundaries and depict such a thing on the name of art. I may be novice in that area or I may have totally misread those pictures but. What baffled me more was when I read somewhere that he was trying to depict them in their serene form, if that is the case I would love to ask him whether ever in his life time was he not inspired by anyone or whether he did not felt that his parents were not pure. (Apology for being harsh .... but thats the way it is when you hurt anyone's sentiment).

Buddy, you were citing an example of sculptors on few of our temples but I believe those sculptors were chiseled ages ago when people used to be like that but now in this era its unacceptable.

I am not saying this because he is from other religion, I would have reacted in the same way even if he would have been of the same religion.

Sachin.

sravan said...

Sachin,
You may be right that people of present age does not conform to such kind of art just like it was ages ago.
But that gives us a good reason only to criticize such art as rubbish and out of date. Or may be to simply brand it as a vulgar, obsecene art.
We cannot intimidate the artist or we cannot bully him or release a fatwa to kill him.
Or do you think the such law and behaviour is the trend of the time??

Gattu said...

Hey Dude,
This time I will not agree with Amar. Sachin, as you have appropriately said one cannot compare the great sculptures of Khajuraho and this type of ‘pain things’... why didn’t the Hussain try to depict the same type of art with other religions? If he would have done so, he might have not got the chance to escape to other countries also......
As an artist we have due respect towards him. He had played with the people's sentiments. For him, those are just the paintings but for others those are more than that. He might not know the importance of those Goddesses. We have to at least let him know. I do deprecate the attacks on him. At least others should think before playing with crores of masses feelings..........

Shiv Shankar

Amar said...

@Sachin,
//.. to depict them in their serene form//
could it not be because those these characters he is painting/drawing are mythological figures who never existed in flesh and blood! On the other hand that is not true with Hussains own parents. And more importantly, I must stress (as u think u may have misread) that these goddesses here stand for variety of characteristics like ferocity, arts. Imagine how an artist would capture these characteristics?

//you were citing an example of sculptors on few of our temples ...when people used to be like that but now in this era its unacceptable//
Firstly, I didn't cite that logic as that would be lame. I only stresses on what MF Hussain's possible idea was behind the paintings.

Secondly, by the logic in the above argument tastes change over time so why do we want to stop Hussain from doing possible 'futuristic' art. After all he did not publicize these paintings and he did not put them out for mass consumption. He did that for art connoisseurs,and art critics have nothing but praise for him. So why cant we just leave these for art critics and lovers? After all its not like a movie release in every city and town. Then the allegation for 'deliberate hurting' of sentiments would have been a little valid.

//acceptable for any person to cross boundaries//
I very well understand yours and others hurt feelings but the point here is if at all we start building boundaries in arts, social behavior, writings, speeches, discussions..where would they end?
That approach, I believe, is impractical.

Amar said...

@Shiv
//why didn’t the Hussain try to depict the same type of art with other religions? If he would have done so, he might have not got the chance to escape to other countries also...... //
u r probably right. But that is not the point unless u want to compare and make India similar to the 'other countries' u r referring to! the values on trial and the scene of alleged 'blasphemy' is India so let us stick to our laws. The issue is about paintings, so we have to stick to examining the content and intent there.

//those are just the paintings but for others those are more than that. He might not know the importance of those Goddesses..//
I believe Hussain does not look at his own work as 'mere paintings'. If thats the case, he would not have reached such a stature! And i seriously believe he understands the importance of these goddesses much more than most of the Hindus and that is why he could bring out such multi-dimensional characteristics of the goddesses on a canvas. Otherwise, he would produced the standard 'humanized' goddesses we see in our home, which incidentally are some other artists' creation!

We can agree to disagree but we should also know why. Thats the beauty in rational debate. I hope no one here will take these discussions personally. These are just logical debates.

sachin said...

Amar,

I accept ur logic that he was trying to paint mythological figures which never existed then according to you lord Ganesha did existed and MF had met him so he had depicted him in proper attire or may be he was unable to find any
characteristics in him so he drew his proper painting.... what a load of crap ??? Yes mate it is like that for me

...

And you say that leave these art work for artists and critics I accept that and tomorrow someone else will come and say I know more about humans and will decide fate of them and there will be a group of people supporting him, will
we leave him to take decision for us only because one believes that they know better than us.... no boss I will have my own say and I will react as things appear to me, because am connected to it. If this is the case then there would definitely be a group of people who would try to find some thing in the picture of Bharat mata which created whole lot of controversy and would praise him.

Having said that I appreciate the work he has done, his Mother Teresa's portrait is one of the master piece in his collection.

Buddy I admire ur way of looking at things and am sure you have a valid point but am unable to understand it or may be I dont want to accept it.

Keep shooting.

Sachin.

Amar said...

@Sachin,
Well Buddy, as I said before, I didnt find anything sexually explicit in the goddesses paintings to say they are in 'improper attire'. It is not a case of proper or improper attires. Instead, the use of outlines, I thought, bought out the characteristics well. And every artist - poets, painters, writers etc, sees more flexibility with feminine characters. Is that not the reason why we came up with Bharatmatas and telugutallis in the first place? Noweher in the world do you see such a deep personification of rivers, country, regions in feminine form. So your comparison of the style of drawing of goddesses and Ganesha is out of place.

Nevertheless, Ganesha is explored in a different style in line with his physical form. And Hussain did have his own share of Ganesha paintings -

http://www.ramrahman.com/Sites-Images/GaneshHusain1998.jpg

http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_V74qGOf-esM/RiQpsjjO29I/AAAAAAAAAYs/F78S_Us-U_4/s320/hussain+ganesh.JPG

http://www.hindujagruti.org/hinduism/festivals/ganesh/images/ganesh_vyas.jpg

http://artradarasia.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/m_f_husain___naad_swaram-ganeshayem.jpg

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_UcczfaeN3ag/RulMQIBZ98I/AAAAAAAABC0/GgO-2_sfh0E/s200/husainle1.jpg

http://www.accueilworld.com/product/M%5B1%5D.F.Husain%2030x36_accueil1-t.jpg

http://www.financialexpress.com/old/grfx/newspic/2005/ganesha.jpg

http://www.thehindu.com/fline/fl1416/14160822.jpg

http://www.abhivyakti-hindi.org/kaladirgha/kd1/ganesh3b.jpg

(Cont..)

Amar said...

@sachin,

//tomorrow someone else will come ..//

Firstly, Hussain did not 'come' and show his work to novices and ask them to applaud it! The reach of his art is minuscule. His 1970s paintings are deliberately being publicized in public domain with a right-wing agenda. Hussain did not thrust his work onto our faces. We are open to reject it but not to attack him out of the country.

//..and say I know more about humans and will decide fate of them and there will be a group of people supporting him//

Are we discussing 'deciding the fate of mankind'? Not by any stretch, Hussain does not even on wanted list in any police station in this country!

//..I will have my own say and I will react as things appear to me, because am connected to it..//

U have every right to react, even if its unconnected to you. My only point is

1) If we don't agree with his paintings, we can say it so but we cant imagine, propagate malafide intentions on his part. Cant involve in character assasination.

2) cant intimidate or physically attack him

at the end of day, it's a painting u didn't like. lets keep it that way. let us not attribute deeper 'conspiracies' to it.

కత్తి మహేష్ కుమార్ said...

I simply agree with your POV.

Kiran said...

Amar,

Fantastic viewpoint and a gutsy post! You proved that the paintings are not exactly 'nude'.

For those who believe MFH did the unpardonable, let me show something - http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/1400_1499/bhakti/han5head/han5head.html.

That is Ravi Verma's depiction of Hanuman holding aloft a 'nude' Sita! What now?

Anonymous said...

Hi Amar,

Interesting post ! Though I don't totally agree with your pov, the way you put across the issue is quite convincing ... not sure about the intensions of Hussain in drawing those paintings (may be as you say, he understood the Hindu Goddesses more than some Hindus do) and the alleged righ-wing agenda in bringing the issue up and making him leave the country ... if the righ-wing agenda is true, then it can't be attributed to everyone who disagrees with/dislikes these particular paintings of his ... though he has not presented his paintings for novices who can't 'understand' and 'appreciate' art, once the issue has come up, guess people have a right to comment on them since as you mentioned he is a high profile artiste with a reputation and represents India ...

"Those who support Hussain argue that Hindu culture has a rich tradition of nudity and refer Khajurahos and Kumarasambhavas."
No doubt India is the land of Kamasutra and the sculptures on Khajuraho temples are the first thing mentioned in defence of anything which has to do with nudity ... wonder how many understand the essence behind having those sculptures in those times or even today!
wonder what would be the situation if bigamy is also treated to be legal

"could it not be because those these characters he is painting/drawing are mythological figures who never existed in flesh and blood! "
problem arises here, because people who look up to the particular dieties with reverence don't really think in the same way ... they are more than just mythological figures ... just like, as you said, Hussain treats his art as more than 'mere paintings'... point of conflict lies here ...and outlines or explicit details of features, nudity is nudity

"if at all we start building boundaries in arts, social behavior, writings, speeches, discussions..where would they end?"
cannot but agree with the above ... but fortunately/unfortunately everything in society functions within certain boundaries ... some are written, some are unwritten ... how far those boundaries go depends on the era and social conditions we live in ... yeaterday's boundary may get erased today and today's boundary may not exist tomorrow ...

no sure if my points made a logical debate :-)

~ PR

Amar said...

@Anon,

//but fortunately/unfortunately everything in society functions within certain boundaries ... some are written, some are unwritten ...//

R u implying extra-constitutional authorities?

//how far those boundaries go depends on the era and social conditions we live in..//

and by extension the major political power or major religion? Going bu your argument, If this the case with art, what would be the case with religious freedom, caste based discrimination etc ? Only the fittest shall survive?

Anonymous said...

//R u implying extra-constitutional authorities? //
not sure if we can call those unwritten rules as extra-constitutional authorities

Constitution basically defines the rights. it gives the right to freedom of expression/speech ... does it define the responsibilty one needs to carry when using the freedom of expression/speech ? (now,responsibilty doesnot always mean one needs to express/say only things that please others)

//and by extension the major political power or major religion? //

have the minority religions never protested something they thought to be wrong ? now, everything Hindus say cannot be taken as a word of the right-wing organisations

//Going bu your argument, If this the case with art, what would be the case with religious freedom, caste based discrimination etc ?//

well, as I implied in my previous comment, the boundaries keep changing

Amar said...

@Anon,
//not sure if we can call those unwritten rules as extra-constitutional authorities..//

unwritten rules are always written by the extra-constitutional authorities and they would be those who can rally the masses on the streets or hold sway with mass culture. In an age where media has become a handy propoganda machine, many an unwritten rules can be written with ignorance and prejudice. I believe in liberty and an orderly society that guarantees it.

//does it define the responsibilty one needs to carry when using the freedom of expression/speech ? ..//
Well we do have fundamental duties and this is one of them - To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform. As part of duty, we would try not hurting my fellow citizens nose while exercising our freedom of speech but if our fellow Indians claim their nosees run for miles, we cant help it.

The only feasible solution is for people to get a little more tolerant and accommodating. Practically thats the solution rather than trying to restrain people. I am not arguing there is something wrong in restraining itself but the problem is in the mechanism of unwritten laws to implement it.

hareaswar said...

art indeed have to maintain some dignity and decorum.. at today's scene if an inside of couple's bedroom is painted it is pornography not an art.. so do for MF Hussain.. if it is raping the belief of a group of people it cannot be art... indeed opinions differ.. this is my point .. and really i feel it is no point to discuss about the work of a dead painter (something blocks me from calling him artist).. sorry for you MFH

Gregory F. Fegel said...

The ancient Hindu artists depicted the Gods and Goddesses nearly nude or nude in the Temple sculptures and paintings. The ancient village art likewise depicted the Gods and Goddesses as nearly nude or nude. Apparently neither the public sentiment nor the Sanatana Dharma was offended by the near-nudity and nudity of the Gods and Goddesses in the ancient Hindu art. Therefore, if modern Hindus are offended by the near-nudity and nudity of the Gods and Goddesses, it is not because of the Sanatana Dharma but because of the prudish shame for the naked body that was introduced to India and taught to the Hindus by the Moslems and the Christians. Since the ancient Hindus accepted the near-nudity and nudity of the Gods and Goddesses, it cannot be claimed that the modern prudish shame for the naked body is a part of Sanatana Dharma. If a modern artist, Hindu or non-Hindu, follows the tradition of the ancient Hindu Temple art by portraying the Gods and Goddesses as nearly-nude or nude, the artist cannot be faulted for doing so.

If modern Hindus do not approve of portraying the Gods and Goddesses as nearly-nude or nude, they should remove the ancient statues and paintings from the Temples. The modern Hindus can explain to the art historians and the Temple preservationists that God has changed His mind and He doesn't want those nearly-naked and naked sculptures and paintings of the Gods and Goddesses in His Temples any longer. The Moslems, the Christians, and the modern Hindus have convinced God that the nearly-naked and naked sculptures and paintings of the Gods and Goddesses are no longer acceptable.

-- Gregory Fegel

custom essay services said...

Earlier I didn't understand Pablo Picasso's art. But when I saw his first artworks I was impressed. He is a real genius!

Vamsi said...

Wow, I always hear about "MF Hussain's nude pictures on Hindu deities controversy" but never know what they are. Thanks Amar for bringing this to our knowledge.

Jose Joseph said...

just one question to all those who supports MF Hussain; why have he not felt such creativity on Islamic scriptures of prophets. why did he not draw Mohammad in the same manner he drew the above said pictures of Hindu goddesses.

aruna v said...

I perfectly agree to what Sachin has said. What would have been his reaction if his religious beliefs were hurt this way?