New Delhi: Through an open hall leading to long corridors at the Jamia Millia Islamia university, passers-by from sweepers to students walked in and out against a backdrop of large artworks.
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Yasir P.V. sauntered in just by chance, on his way to the varsity’s accounts department, to discover the impromptu exhibition of M.F. Husain’s works. They were brought to the university on Thursday after the show was vandalized at New Delhi’s Vitthalbhai Patel House earlier in the week.
“This is amazing. I didn’t even know about this and have just strolled my way here,” Yasir, who studies Persian at the university, says, surveying the tall paintings and angry posters on the walls.
There is a range of reproduced works and photographs of the celebrated, but exiled, painter himself, shot surrounded by oil paints and in the backdrop of his favourite places, traversing diverse themes from Urdu poetry to peace in Indian history.
Breathing space: Reproduced works of M.F. Husain find a place at the Jamia Millia Islamia university after a show of the exiled artist’s works at New Delhi’s Vitthalbhai Patel House was vandalized earlier this week. Photograph: Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
These were the frames that were broken at the Hussain Art Summit, being run parallel by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat) to the first India Art Summit that opened last weekend, in response to galleries being asked not to put up the artist’s works. The vandals, proclaiming to belong to a radical Hindu organization, destroyed at least a dozen such frames worth lakhs of rupees.
But Husain’s art still travelled, frames in devastated state as a form of protest, from violence to the quiet confines of this university after its vice-chancellor Mushirul Hasan, also an eminent historian, invited Sahmat to remount the exhibition on the campus. His gesture, he says, was “an honest effort to uphold the freedom of speech and expression”.
Sahmat readily agreed. “What can be more wonderful than a university willing to exhibit what even the government-supported event shied away from?” says Ram Rahman, noted photographer and founding member of Sahmat.
The significance of the shift—from a very public and largely sacrosanct auditorium where art exhibitions are the order of the day, to an academic space keen on expressing solidarity with the exiled artist, is largely symbolic, notes Rahman. “Everyone has the right to protest, but no one has the right to threaten and carry out the threats. The university’s initiative to host the exhibition reflects that there is a popular reaction against violence and now, the students are also coming forward with the message.”
At Jamia, the exhibition is on for a week, but the surge of visitors ebbed to a trickle by Friday. The opening day saw about a thousand visitors.
“It would have been nice if the art works were displayed at a better place. In the open hall, which works as a thoroughfare for university staff, anyone who comes to see the works is disturbed by the commotion,” Bhaskar Jyoti Borah, a fine arts student at the university, says, pointing towards the waterhole in the hall.
But Rahman says the audacious effort by the university has already led to a novel idea. The exhibit plans to travel to Jawaharlal Nehru University next. “We want people to come and see and decide how controversial Husain’s art is,” he says. “There is no better medium to do it than through the young generation.”