The artist and his offense : MF Husain and the politics of Indian democracy
For nearly five decades, from 1947 till 1996, the reputation of the artist MF Husain grew till he was called, by Forbes magazine, the Picasso of India. Not only did he belong to the Progressive Artist’s Group, which attempted to forge an Indian modernism, but he experimented with many art forms including drawing on folk art in his depiction of Indian mythological themes particularly the Indian epics the Mahabharata and Ramayana. In 1996 this adulation changed and he was denounced as an artist who deliberately painted Hindu goddesses in the nude to offend the sensibilities of tolerant Hindus. What changed in 1996? Why was the most celebrated of Indian artists now reviled? What was the public debate that ensued ?
In this talk I will look at M.F.Husain’s work, place it within the philosophy of art initiated by the Progressive Artist Group, explore the inspirations that motivated him, examine the paintings considered offensive, discuss the nature of such alleged offense, and inquire what sort of verdict should we, as educated citizens, make on Husain the artist. I will present slides of some of his paintings and will place the reading of his work within the contested politics of Indian democracy. By raising the issue of ‘art and offense’ I hope to address, and learn from, similar concerns being debated in France on freedom of expression and satirizing the sacred.
This is part of a larger study titled “Offensive Expression: the ‘threshold’ question in Indian democracy”, which I am doing as the Dr.Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan Chair of the Rajya Sabha, I have chosen to look at certain difficult cases of expression that have prompted calls for censorship and punishment. To strengthen our democracy we need a more finely argued public debate on the place of ‘offensive expression’, so that we do not cede the public space to the heckler demanding a veto on expression.
Speaker: Peter Ronald deSouza is the Dr.S.Radhakrishnan Rajya Sabha Chair (2015-2017) and Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). He was Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, from 2007-2013.
Peter Ronald deSouza
Dr.S.Radhakrishnan Rajya Sabha Chair (2015-2017) and Professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS). He was Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, from 2007-2013.