Make art affordable
During the "Imprints of India" exhibition now on in Dubai, M.F. Husain takes time off to talk about the release of his limited edition graphics and art in general.
Master painter: Husain has made monumental contributions to the development of Indian art.
WHEN all of Dubai's desi fraternity congregates in the best of their bling, there has to be a reason. And so there is. Maqbool Fida Husain is to be present at the opening of an exhibition of his works. And he is.
Wearing a crumpled suit and woollen socks, the master painter patiently signs autographs, poses for photographs, listens to 20-minute speeches and smiles through the poems and paeans that were being pronounced on him. Whispers of the E word can be heard and surely, Husain doesn't miss the careless utterances around him, however, as he says in an interview the previous day, "It's just a word. I don't understand the word exile and why it has to come up. I have always travelled and spent long periods of time away from India. This exhibition will travel to India after other cities," he says shuffling in his seat. "Yes, I will," he adds on being asked if would attend the exhibition's opening in India.
On his re-creations
Prior to my interview with Husain, I'm duly informed that he does not wish to talk politics. So we talk art. Husain says he is working on a series of 99 paintings depicting the Arab civilisation's contribution to humankind. This exhibition is a release of 125 limited edition graphics. "They are not reprints or reproductions. But re-creations," he said of the prints that are accompanied by a certificate of guarantee, hologram, number and Husain's signature.
The random choice of works chosen is spread across his repertoire of six decades and the idea of re-creation immediately received his blessing in order to make art more accessible. "By making it more affordable," he says.
Considering the highest price ever paid for a single Husain canvas was $2 million at a Christies' auction, he is well aware that it might be a while before everybody can own a bit of Husain. And yet, it was undeniably the efforts of Husain that helped create the setting for the high prices that Indian contemporary art now commands. "Back in the day Indian art dealers were sitting like shopkeepers. So few years back the price of Indian art was ridiculously low. Our own people didn't know what it was," he recalls.
Question of commitment
Husain, however, insisted in 1964 that the art dealers he was dealing with should buy his works instead of merely stocking them. "There must be a commitment. Then only he will work for it. And that method has worked," he says, describing his long-standing relationship with the Pundole Art Gallery in Mumbai.
The flip side is that such efforts have earned him labels such as commercial, which he laughs off and attributes as a side effect of jealousy. "The rich and the industrialists are jealous because the paintings' prices have gone out of their league, but let's not go into details. The only industrialist who genuinely cared about the country was J.R.D Tata. All the others have just accumulated wealth for their own families," he remarks.
The master painter goes on to say, "The arts have always been a part of the Indian landscape. In our rituals, folk arts, it was never restricted to the kings, royal courts and churches. Whereas in Europe, it became a part of everyday life only after the Industrial Revolution. For art to flourish it has to relate to everyday life. Sadly in the last century we had the two World Wars, the East was not as affected by them as the West. It was far too traumatic for them and, so now, nobody trusts each other," he says of the self-inflicted censorship that looms large over creative individuals. He admits this has led to a trend of apologetic and politically correct works, which he notes may not be the healthiest course of evolution for art as a whole. "Artists are not reformers or thinkers. We have to draw from the wonders of the visual world. It is really fascinating. The strength and power of tribal art lies in the fact that they have non-conditioned minds. The moment a painter becomes a philosopher, art is dead."
With the exception of Picasso's "La Guernica", Husain questions which other artistic masterpieces are politically motivated before proceeding to answer why his own paintings are politically exploited, and perhaps, misunderstood.
"For political reasons. That (controversy) is over. It was at its height a few years ago and I have apologised. I'm working outside for now because this (Dubai) is a unique city. It has all the resources I need, some of the biggest events are here, I love the hot weather and it's close to home, so I can go back whenever I wish to. One can't expect the man on the street to understand paintings. One needs to study the creative process and have some sort of education in art, which must be encouraged in our education system. Art must not be imposed. Till 11, a child is very independent in thought and this must be allowed to grow."
Husain's own contribution to the development of contemporary Indian art is monumental and the artist's response to a petition signed by fellow artists and writers requesting the President to confer the Bharat Ratna award on him is a little laugh followed by: "In my lifetime I've got more than that. I have the love and affection of the people and, wherever I go in India, people recognise me."
M.F. Husain's works are featured in an exhibition titled "Imprints of India" at 1X1 Art Space gallery in Dubai. The exhibition runs until March 29.
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