Wednesday, March 10, 2010

An artist and an exile.

The 95 year old painter, Mr. M. F. Husain is in the news again. This time, for renouncing Indian citizenship in favor of the Middle Eastern kingdom of Qatar.

Many in the educated sections of our society feel that it is a great dishonor to India. And indeed it is. Whether to pursue his artistic freedom or to face the law for hurting religious sentiments, he should have stayed or made to stay in the country of his birth and lifelong work.

In another example, two lives were lost in the recent violent outburst against Ms. Taslima Nasreen’s expressions in her writings. The banning of the book ‘Da Vinci Code’, the fatwa against Mr. Salman Rushdie, are amongst the infamous examples of this curtailment of an artist’s freedom of expression.

This post is not to defend or stand against Mr. Husain, Ms. Nasreen, Mr. Brown or many others from the creative community. It is an attempt to analyze the reason(s) why a creative person becomes the subject of violent treatment, when basically his job is to just express himself.

Let’s start with the definition of an artist. According to the dictionary, an artist is a person whose creative work shows sensitivity and imagination. But for me, it is a category which is much larger than this narrow stream of writers, painters and performers it is used to denote. Any individual who looks at life from a fresh perspective, who expresses himself in his own unique manner and whose work generates emotions in the audience is an artist. From every child learning to grow to my mother and from Galileo to Rama to the Prophet, everyone is or has been an artist in varying degrees of expression.

But then why do some artists get persecuted? Is it because all true artists are natural nonconformists, creating something against the wishes and patterns of the society in which they operate? Or does it happen when an artist crosses the line between creative expression and deliberate transgression? Or perhaps it is a mixture of both.

Coming back to the people in the news, what makes Mr. Husain the subject of persecution from one section of the society is the same thing that makes Ms. Nasreen a criminal from the point of view of another section of the same society. Both, in their course of artistic expression (might) have crossed the line and thus are guilty of hurting religious sentiments of these sections of the society. But then the question that arises is of who draws this line. Who decides what is right and what is wrong and who should be branded a criminal for life? And who manages that one set of these ‘rules’ or ‘laws’ apply to all the ‘wrong-doers’ equally?

Difficult questions to answer. But questions are important. And in the cacophony of reactions and outrage every such ‘creative expression’ generates, it is difficult to maintain an objective outlook.

A true democratic society is one which gives space to these kinds of debates and arrives at a conclusion through dialogue. But in this age of sensational politics and TRP games, is too utopian an idea to take shape.

Till such a public debate space is created, till people stop reacting without thinking or being the puppet of forces with vested interests, till then, the Husains and the Nasreens of this world will continue to be in exile, whether by choice or by force.

P.S. Some links you might consider going through regarding the current controversy

 Saba Naqvi's article in Outlook on Muslim Liberals

Chandan Mitra's editorial piece in The Pioneer on why should Husain stay back in India

Javed Akhtar's interview by Karan Thapar on the artistic freedom of Mr. Husain and Ms. Nasreen


Harish said...

So, this was your post.. and wallah! what a post.

I totally concur with your objective views.What MF Hussain does is his decision. Let us not decide for him. It is neither a matter of pride or shame. Where on one hand we have someone leaving our country, we have taslima who finding India to be a safe haven. So it is very subjective.

Religion is what we interpret, religion is not what it is. This is my interpretation. I just wish that people are not persecuted and harmed for their interpretation that might not align with the so called majority.

And, In the present society that we are in, the word "Majority" is a myth. The loudest is the majority.

hai naa...

devaski said...

It is not the question of subject or object. Nobody has any right to insult the believes and faith one perceive it in whatever the mean!

If he has not done anything wrong, there was no necessity for him to surrender the Indian feeling.

If someone paints poster like MF begging in Qatar, Will MF feel pride or Shame.?
If he is not, his loyalties in the name of praising the art, are not bothered about the sentiment of other.

Toon Indian said...

awesome post bro ..totally agree with your definition of artist..I guess people who have that artistic instinct kind of see, live , feel a world that is completely different, at times very futuristic from the world that most of us live in which is why there is always that discord between the society and the artists and I guess it will remain although we should do our best do close the gap !!

Naveen said...

Most of us are in denial that nudism was a casual aspect of our culture until recent times. Here is a nice post with some pictures laying bare the facts -

Surubhi said...

I think we have no right to make a fuss if he has decided to let the Indian citizenship go. None of the people making a noise now came forward when he was forced to live out of India. So no one has a right to say anything now.
As far as creative freedom goes...I think we all need to live and let live. Unfortunately we have a habit of wanting everyone to fall in line with the way we think which is so not done.

ani_aset said...

Damn its difficult to find your Comments link.
I'll quote one thing "the right to extend your arms finishes where my nose starts"
Everything is else is acceptable..the way people protest is not.

Anonymous said...

Top post!

Freedom of Expression and the forceful suppression of this Freedom is not something new.

When an artist creates something, it is for the audience that wants to see his creations that he does so. The rest, who cannot appreciate his creation should ignore it.

Even if it hurts the sentiments of a certain section of the society, it should be resolved through meaningful dialogue. The use of force in such cases is totally unwarranted.

Harish(Aham) talks about the loudest being the majority. Is it really the majority that is at work when we are talking about suppression of artistic freedom? The majority could care less.

A few vested interests who stand to gain(or think they can gain) popularity are at work when they attack an artist.

But then, history also shows that the creation as well as the artist gains more popularity and support when his creation comes under such criticism.

That my friend, is my two cents about the post. Well written. :)

Aman Sharma said...

Dear Adee,

You have tried to tackle a difficult and a bit of a political issue here. At a political level, I agree with all that you have said.

However, from an artist like you, what could have enlightened us more were the psychological reasons why artists tend to enrage sections of the populace from time to time? Do they realize the reactions they would face at the time of creating their pieces of art? When the reactions do come, what hold them back from saying "sorry"? What motivates artists like Salman Rushdie to spend their entire life in obscurity but hold on to what they had to say?

Would be interesting to read a bit on this from an artist like you in another blog post of yours!

Twitter id : @amancool5

Sangeeta R. Goswami said...

Hello sir,
Me and some of my frnds have started an E-magazine called Reader's Quotient, it is totally for a noble cause, i came across ur blog in my quest to search talented writers and felt worth if u shall be willing to come along with us,
If yes pls contact us at

waiting for ur revert

regds Sangeeta

dreamt before

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