NEW DELHI: Artists, reacting to the news of Qatar nationality being conferred on artist M.F. Husain who is currently in temporary exile, fear that the treatment of the eminent painter is part of a broader trend.
“This is not the first time we have thrown away our geniuses,” said fellow painter Anjolie Ela Menon. “In India, we recognise our national treasures only when they are gone.”
The recent riots against a Hindi film were defied by a show of strength from the public. However, it has been harder for painters to find popular support, says Kishan Khanna, who was a member of the Progressive Artists Group co-founded by Mr. Husain in 1947. “The circulation of painting is a very small matter. It doesn’t have the reach that some other arts do. But it will stay. It is evidence that will stay long after the others have gone. No one is going to forget Husain sahib and his work.”
Singer Shubha Mudgal pointed out that if Mr. Husain could be treated in such a way, “things could go even more horribly wrong for a younger artist of lesser stature and we wouldn’t even know it. There are other more subtle ways of pressuring creative people that don’t even get talked about.”
“We should write an open letter, asking him to come back. Unless it’s a movement, a few isolated voices can’t bring him back. I would urge him not to give up his Indian nationality…It would be a national shame if we cannot say he belongs to us,” said actor Sharmila Tagore
“It’s tragic that he would have to give up not only his citizenship, but also his heritage, simply because of the politics of intimidation,” said filmmaker Shyam Benegal.
Ms. Menon feels that any action taken now would be too little, too late. “If at this stage, we decide to do anything, it would be reactive. It should be proactive.” she said.
“Since the man is 95 what is the point of coming back to India when the government cannot ensure his safety. It is an irony that being born in India he cannot die in the country. After all he has got nothing to lose by accepting Qatar’s nationality,” said photographer Ram Rahman.
Theatre veteran M.K. Raina who had protested against exclusion of Husain’s works at the 2008 India Art Summit said: “It is a shame for Indian democracy. While Salman Rushdie was issued a fatwa, Britain and other countries stood by him.”