Husain’s last hurrah gets many hosannas

Husain’s last hurrah gets  many hosannas
GOD’S GIFT: Husain’s Ganesha exhibited at the V&A museum
For the past two months or so, up until last week that is, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum was host to a very special show — an exhibition of the late MF Husain’s last works. The show, which opened on May 28, was one of the city’s major art attractions this summer and featured the artist’s breathtaking creation, Indian Civilisation, a series he had been working on during his final days. Consisting of eight very large panels, we might say that Husain poured all his feelings into this mammoth project by recreating images that represented the many different periods of his career. Somewhere at the back of his mind, there may have been the thought that this might be his last work, and he thus chose to string together all those familiar images that we have admired over the years.

In these eight panels that Husain created between 2006 and 2011, he has followed his usual style by painting three different themes on each panel — which most painters might divide into three separate canvases shown together as a triptych. In fact, if one takes into consideration the number of episodes and subjects that are seen on the panels, we might say that steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, who had commissioned the project, has gained far more than eight paintings — he now has the entire history of India’s civilisation created by this masterly hand.

It was, perhaps, among the worst tragedies in India’s art history, when an artist of Husain’s stature — arguably India’s most famous painter — had to leave his homeland because his work was found objectional by some sections. As an artist who spent his lifetime depicting India’s culture — its people, their festivals and their gods and goddesses in his inimitable style — it is unbelievable that he was forced to ‘flee the country in 2006’ after his depiction of Bharat Mata, did not meet with the aesthetic sensibilities of right wing groups.

However, they perhaps had no idea how strong and deep-rooted was his love for his homeland. Welcomed by many countries who offered him asylum and the chance to paint as and when he pleased, Husain however, no matter where he went, he carried India in his heart, and involuntarily a glimpse would appear in all his work. At the V&A exhibition, in true traditional style, his exhibition opened with a painting of Ganesha, India’s god for all beginnings.

When Lakshmi Mittal invited him to undertake his project in 2008, Husain probably heaved a sigh of relief as he could now once again go back to creating the images closest to his hear. His Vision of India through Mohenjodaro to Mahatma Gandhi spans the earliest known settlements till India’s independence. What he has achieved is a vivid presentation of different centuries, changing dynasties, interspersed with festivals and historical personalities, a colourful and lasting anthology of Indian civilisation.

V&A were keen to exhibit the much-lauded Indian Civilisation series, especially since he had been one of their ‘artists in residence’ at the museum in 1990, and were delighted when Usha Mittal agreed to lend the precious Husain panels for a two-month exhibition. A record number of global visitors, including many from India, have had the unique opportunity of seeing the exhibition and I hope this monumental creation will be accessible and on permanent display somewhere in the future.

(The writer is an author and a former art gallery owner)

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