Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Artistic Integrity and Social Responsibility

I rarely write about anything serious these days because honestly, life at the moment is just so intense that I can not find the energy to think about anything reality based. I would rather spend my 10 hours a day at work then go home and get lost in some fiction book or TV series. I cant even watch any realistic films right now for fear that my brain might explode. But I was recently confronted with a situation that sparked a fairly interesting conversation, or as some people might call it, a debate. I do not feel that I gained significant insight to the situation after the discussion so I thought some of you might be able to shed some light on this subject for me. I will try my best to draw out the scenario for you without allowing my personal opinions to get in the way. There might also be some errors in my narrative as it has been very difficult for me to find sufficient information on line.

The subject at hand is regarding MF Husain, possibly India's most well known artist and painter, who has frequently been refered to as the 'Indian Picasso'. He will be 97 years old this year. Husain was born in India, and raised as a Muslim Indian. He studied mostly in India and went on to gain fame and notoriety across the globe for his artistic talents. Somewhere around the 1990’s he released a collection of painting that he allegedly created in the 70’s that depicted a range of Hindu Gods naked. As one could imagine, the controversy that followed added fuel to the already mounting tensions between Indian Hindus and Muslims. There were also some protests against Husain himself and charges were filed against him in the Delhi court. In 2006 the ruling went against him and Husain was charged with 'hurting the sentiments of people'. Since then Husain has been living in London and Dubai for fear of being incarcerated should he return to India. These are some of the painting from Husain's collection of nude Hindu Deities.

Godess Durga in Sexual Union with a Tiger

Naked Draupadi

Godess Laxmi Naked on Shri Ganesh's Head

Naked Shri Parvati

Naked Saraswati

To make matters even worse for Husain, in 2006 his painting ‘Bharatmata’ (Mother India) was used on a poster to promote a charity event for Kashmir. I am not sure if the painting was part of the auction to raise funds but either way, his depiction of India as a naked woman with names of cities scribbled across her bare body stirred up the hornets nest and once again patriots were on their feet shouting bloody murder. Husain apologized for his painting and the poster was retracted but allegedly only days later the same painting was featured on his official website.

I received an email a few days ago with the paintings above compared to other paintings of Husain has made of his own family members and other Indian figures. I do not know who the author of that article was but you can see part of it here (scroll to bottom). She/he suggests in the article I received that Husain is deliberately defaces the Hindu gods out of lack of respect for the deities and their followers. The author suggests that Husain generally depicts only characters he despises, such as Hitler, in naked form. The writer points to the reactions Muslims all over the world had when a cartoon was published that in their opinion defaced Islam and to the Sikh reaction when a common mad dared to dress as their Guru. She/he goes on to call for a reaction from the Hindu community to not be 'cowards' and 'have courage to protect out self respect'. It is this email that prompted me to further investigate this issue, but as I have said before, I have not found much sensible or well founded information about this topic online. But there are numerous websites sounding protests against Husain, defense against his actions, and of course a whole lot of stupidity. Keep in mind when reading these articles that they are full of peoples OPINIONS and I am only linking to them to shed some light on the existing controversy.

Regardless of weather I like the paintings or not, or if I think Husain is validated by his art, I am asking myself and you, DOES AN ARTIST HAVE A SOCIAL RESPOSIBILITY AND SHOULD THE GOVERNMENT HAVE THE RIGHT TO PROSECUTE HIM FOR HARMING THE SENTIMINTS OF ITS PEOPLE? Feel free to leave a comment or email me a lengthily response. I plan to post my thoughts on this issue along with yours later on this week.

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