Art and Anarchy

Anarchy comes from the Greek word an = without and arkhos = ruler.

The times we live in with a PM in absentia, and his spokesman Mr. Kapil Sibal’s moronic statement “The PM is a notional concept”. Sheesh, Mr. Sibal, I hope you realize that the votes you get from me is also notional. But then I digress.

What is art? As a creative person, I can safely state that to me my writing, my art is something that helps me express, without any limitation, my mind. Art knows no boundaries. Art is definitely anarchic in nature. To grab eyeballs, to capture the imagination, it has to push beyond safe boundaries, beyond comfort zone.

And creative people soar so high into their own imaginative worlds that it shocks them, surprises them when they see the strong reactions that the fruit of their creativity brings. I am sure Taslima Nasrin found that out to her own horror, so did Salman Rushdie. Stéphane Mallarmé, was once quoted “Je ne sais pas d’autre bombe, qu’un livre.” (I know of no bomb other than a book.) I would say the same about a painting.

I got an email forward today which was Hussain bashing. Honestly the paintings depicted did not shock me. They did not even titillate. I mean, they were just forms of the female body, no detailing. Very artistically done and not vulgar at all. They were not portraits, like the portraits of his wife and daughter. Of course his wife and daughter sat down to get portraits done, and hence were clothed. Mother India or the numerous goddesses did not. Hence the forms were there.

Honestly people, what about the copulating statues of yakshas and yakshinis? What about Khajuraho?

This is the statue of the mother goddess in Chottanikkara Bhagavathy Temple which is one of the most celebrated Hindu shrines of Kerala. The temple is located in Chottanikkara town, 17kms away from Ernakulam. Rajarajeswari (Adiparasakthi) alias Durga Bhagavathy – the mother Goddess, is the presiding deity of the temple.

To know more click the link. This picture is worshiped in most homes of Hindu devotees.

Given the current intolerant and sensitive milieu we live in, the fact that Hussain is of Islamic faith played a huge role in his being singled out for special treatment, I guess.

I bet the poor man came out of his creative trance and said “Whoa, I did not sign up for this!”

We have had Shekhar Kapoor at loggerheads with censor boards, we have had other creative people at odds with moral police. The most creative way to express disgust at such repression was in May 1967 when the protesting students tarted up the walls of Paris with slogans like L’ennui est contre-révolutionnaire (Boredom is counter-revolutionary).

So let us just put this in perspective.

Hussain painted nude goddesses and mother India. The paintings upset some people who were non creative and considered them offensive. So they protested and Hussain, rather than waste energy fighting them, left. He went ahead and painted more, in another country. No, his form of expression could not be repressed, for all the moralistic jingoism. Now he is dead.

So why the hullabaloo? Art is by its very nature anarchic. It brings forth a lot of change, it pushes the viewer out of his comfort zone, and of course, it communicates to the soul. It is said that the devil played the fiddle. Rock and Roll was considered anarchic and devil’s music. Hussain’s paintings also touched some atavistic chord that led to so much unrest.

All I can say is that the rabble rousers will die – but his paintings will endure.

37 thoughts on “Art and Anarchy

  1. Anita Menon

    I don’t know what world I am right now that it was through this post of yours, that I got to know that MF passed away. Gosh! shocking.
    Your post is a brilliant tribute to a legend. Well done.
    Its a great loss.. there never will be another MF again.

    Reply
    1. Phoenixritu Post author

      Agreed. He was a maverick. He refused to wear any kind of footwear, painted controversial paintings and was childlike. The films he made, the actresses he courted. The man was extremely fascinating. His talent undeniable

      Reply
  2. aativas

    For a person like me (and I am hopeful that there are many more with me) the real question is: did MF felt it necessary to express that way or was it meant to provoke people? If it was absolutely necessary (and I would take his word for that – no other proof required!!) – I can live with that. After all Mother India as a woman is an image – somebody’s creation- I won’t mix it with REAL India around me.

    However I wish: given the sensitive nature of the issue and taking into consideration fundamental right of all the people (and not only artists), would it have been mature of him to express with better control? (Of course, then he would not have been MF that we know of!)

    Only time will answer this.

    Reply
  3. Meenakshy

    Do I need to keep on saying on every post of yours that you are so expressive. And I was the only one among my friends who appreciated his women. So women. Divine yet sinful. So us. :)

    Reply
    1. Phoenixritu Post author

      :D I agree. I simply revel in the fact that the feminine form is so much a celebration of beauty and provokes such strong expressions in art as well as life

      Reply
  4. Bikram

    Hmm well to put in bold words we are Hypocrite people .. Simple ..

    Even though i am not a fan of MF hussein and did not like his art as such .. but what you say about his work bashing on the name of religion that is so silly.. We are the land of Kamasutra and as you said shud go and see the ART at ellora caves etc ..

    Hypocrite people we are .. end of
    Bikram’s

    Reply
  5. Bhagwad Jal Park

    I agree that the reaction to Husain was because he was Muslim. This just shows how shallow the angry people are. You’re supposed to judge a work of art as a standalone concept. The work is separate from the painter. Once it’s out there, you have the right to only judge the art itself…and not the artist.

    Reply
    1. Phoenixritu Post author

      The artist is the creator, Bhagwad. It is impossible to seperate creations from the creator’s name. Charles Dickens or Shakespeare are still known and recognized through their works. I wish people did not react unfavorably to creators solely based on their faith

      Reply
      1. Bhagwad Jal Park

        But when people say “this painting was offensive,” are they actually saying “this person offends me?”

        In which case let’s give up the charade about naked paintings. Because it’s obvious that no one really cares about the paintings as such. If they were painted by a Hindu it would have been entirely different.

        Reply
        1. Phoenixritu Post author

          Yes, exactly. If Hussain was a hindu, he would have been daring or naughty. People would shake their heads indulgently, not carry on this hate campaign

          Reply
  6. Writerzblock

    While I see merit in your discussion, Ritu, I simply cannot accept the fact that art can go scot-free. Freedom always come with some social responsibility. There is no such thing as complete and reckless freedom.

    This is like saying our forefathers roamed about with knives/spears, so I will also carry them wherever I go, and if people get perturbed by my act, then I don’t care a damn!

    That is simply not acceptable.

    P.S: Hussain being an artist, never dared to paint Allah or Christ or Virgin Mary in the nude, did he?

    Reply
    1. Bhagwad Jal Park

      I think freedom can be as reckless as long as it doesn’t take away someone else’s rights. In Husain’s case, he wasn’t preventing anyone else from exercising their rights. No one has a right to be “not offended” for example.

      Ok – a quick question. Suppose Husain had painted the paintings and then kept them in his bedroom without showing anyone. But he told people what he had painted. Would people still have been offended?

      Reply
    2. Phoenixritu Post author

      Our goddesses have always been painted nude and semi nude. Just because someone Islamic did the same – it freaks us out. Have you seen the pic of a statue of the Mother Goddess put up in my blog?

      Reply
  7. Writerzblock

    I agree with Bikki, we are a bunch of hypocrites. And also the fact that Hussain was a Muslim made it worse for him.

    Having said that, Goddess Saraswathi is sacred to Hindus. I don’t think Hussain did right by painting a nude picture. ANY artist (not just Hussain) should have had more sense to not willingly and knowingly hurt the sentiments of people.

    Reply
  8. Smitha

    I think your last line said it all – ‘All I can say is that the rabble rousers will die – but his paintings will endure.’. And also thanks to the rabble rousers, some of us would get introduced to his art.

    Reply
  9. p

    your post made me wonder.
    suppose my son,who has a fetish for play dough nowadays,fashions phallic structures out of it tomorrow as an adult and displays around to one and all,i think i will be embarrassed.
    maybe it’s because sex,nudity are too private and subtle,whose public display is rather reckless and distasteful.I wouldn’t mind if the creativity is unleashed for the sheer joy of imagination and non-utilitarian pleasure that one can get only from art.
    i might also not know how to define it exactly but i know it’s not hypocrisy,for an aesthetically done work of art can convey better than a blatant nude that is unsavoury.
    a true artist/writer/musician/poet would know how to employ this subtlety in his art so that only real appreciators get him.

    Reply
    1. Phoenixritu Post author

      Have you seen his paintings? Hussain always painted abstracts, there was nothing detailed, no explicit nudity in his paintings. And a nude – done tastefully is lovely to see. Check out Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. No Greek or Roman started rabble rousing about ancient Goddesses being demeaned by an infidel.

      Reply
  10. Samadrita

    Exactly. I feel some of the ones raising all the hue and cry are not even qualified enough to judge art, let alone bash it. Like Ambika Soni said yesterday that if narrow-minded ones view an artist’s creation with the same perspective then no doubt it will be a disaster. I couldn’t agree more with her.

    Reply
    1. Phoenixritu Post author

      I like Hussain – for his childlike honesty of expression. I don’t understand abstract paintings, so that will have to wait until I develop some artistic refinement. He left India, rather than waste his time here combating rabble rousers and defending himself. And he chose to focus on the work at hand. Excellent choice. The press was raising issues, he chose not to speak about it, but move on.

      Reply
  11. Indianhomemaker

    Nudity was and generally is still not seen as offensive in art, so I can only think that the objections here are based on his being Muslim. I also agree with you about artistic license. I loved his paintings, as a lay person, I found them beautiful and even before I knew how famous he was, I had straightened and ironed an envelop with brightly colored paintings, which I later learnt were MF Hussain’s. Whether he was good or not, his creations seem to appeal to a lot of people.
    I feel those who found him offensive do have the option to refuse to look at, buy or admire his paintings.

    Reply
    1. Phoenixritu Post author

      Oh he was a showman to the core! I bet the sensation was something he enjoyed. He only got put off when the bigots started vandalizing his work. And where are the vandals today Haan? Every one knows and respects M.F. Hussain, not one person knows and respects the vandals

      Reply
  12. shail

    I have never understood how sentiments can be hurt unless allowed to be hurt. And how do artists make sure they don’t hurt sentiments?? Do they go around asking people before they create art (in any form)?? Do they have to make a guess or go about taking permission from ALL who probably might let thmselves be hurt by their future creation before they even begin creating??
    Well, we bloggers are also sort of artists. What we write here goes against accepted beliefs and practices of traditionalists. So shouldn’t we first take their permission lest they be offended and accuse us of hurting their sentiments?? ;)

    When there was so much hullabaloo over MF paintings some time back, I asked someone who was vehemently criticising MF for painting Hindu Gods in the buff, well, ‘They cannot get any nuder than they already are in our temples, right??’ (Look at the above picture worshipped in every home)
    Another question. Do Gods and Hinduism itself need mere mortals to speak up for them?? Don’t They know to take care of Themselves if They feel a human has done wrong painting Them the way they did?? Of course this question is for all believers who feel they have to defend their respective Gods and fight over them.

    Reply
    1. Phoenixritu Post author

      I agree Shail. And I concur that the goddesses, if they are so powerful, can definitely fight their own battles.

      But fairness demands that I must point out that his showmanship, his life style, his subjects raised the price of his paintings.

      Reply
  13. dipali

    Indian culture sounds like such a touchy, hypersensitive being, which is so easily hurt. Very very bechaara if a few abstract nudes can cause it such hurt. I feel saddest about MF Husain having to leave India in his old age, whatever his merits or otherwise as an artist. I did love his flamboyance and showmanship and his huge zest for life. He was an icon, and his memory will live on for a good long time to come.

    Reply
    1. Phoenixritu Post author

      That was a lovely blog post. He was controversy’s child. He perhaps reveled int the attention, too. Though he must have been homesick in the end

      Reply
  14. Mysoul

    I have seen the paintings and I dont think it is comparable with what we have at Khajurahu. Here’s what I dont understand(aside from understanding that anyone can voice their dissent, have an opinion or preference), we never call on the Cobbler to get a haircut, do we? So why are we having those who arent artists judge an artist?

    Reply
    1. Phoenixritu Post author

      Really good point. But this argument will go on and on. Hussain never bothered to stay and argue. He left India once the hue and cry became unmanageable. And then he left the world …

      Reply

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