New Delhi: Pioneering Indian contemporary artist M.F. Husain’s absence at The India Art Summit for the second year in a row has not gone down well with many in the art fraternity.
This is the summit’s second edition with over 54 galleries from across the world—up from 34 last year—taking part at the event to be held at New Delhi’s Pragati Maidan from 19-22 August. Summit organizers cite security concerns for not displaying the controversial artist’s works.
For artist Ravi Gossain, the protest has taken the form of an 11-piece exhibition titled Husain Par Fida that will open on the same day as the summit at Ragini art gallery in New Delhi.
In protest mode: Artist Ravi Gossain with his paintings depicting Husain. Gossain’s vision of Husain is all grandeur. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
In 2008, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) had run a parallel exhibition of reproductions of Husain’s paintings in response to his exclusion from the first India Arts Summit.
But Gossain’s exhibition is more personal. It is an artistic tribute to the master painter through life-sized oil and acrylic canvasses with some as large as 7ft x 16ft. The works range from flamboyant depictions that show the artist in a red Ferrari, Husain and Henry Moore, to ones that show him hospitalized, Husain in ICU.
Gossain’s vision of Husain is all grandeur. In his paintings, the otherwise barefoot painter wears high boots. His rendition of the artist is quirky as well: When put under a scanner in a hospital scene, Husain Under Scanner, the scanner shows colour bars rather than a lifeline.
Born in 1950 to an artist father Madan Mohan Gossain, Ravi Gossain is an alumnus of the Indian Institute of Technology and took to painting professionally only recently. The tribute exhibition came about in response to enthusiastic reactions to Husain and Henry Moore, that was part of a collection titled Me, Myself, My Obsession and My Area Of Peace exhibited at the Alliance Francaise de Delhi last August. After praise from artist Satish Gujral, the self-confessed Husain admirer decided to go ahead with an entire series dedicated to the maverick innovator.
Husain’s paintings of Hindu goddesses in the past have incited violent protests from some extremist organizations, who have vandalized his work and even attacked his house. With over 800 cases pending against him, Husain is living in self-exile in Dubai and London. In September, however, the Supreme Court refused to initiate criminal proceedings against him for allegedly hurting public sentiment through some of his paintings that were dubbed obscene.
Neha Kirpal, associate summit director, says the organizers are desperately pressing for police protection in order to exhibit Husain’s works. “We are very keen on including him,” she says. “But we’ve been told that there’s been no successful exhibition of Husain’s works in the country over the last four years. We are afraid of going ahead without support from the government and police.”
To deal with allegations from the art fraternity about the conspicuous exclusion, summit organizers have issued a statement expressing their regret. “While we acknowledge the lifelong achievements and the iconic status of artists like M.F. Husain in Indian art, we are unable to put the entire collective concern at risk by showcasing artists who have in the past been received with hostility by certain sections of the society unless we receive protection from government and the Delhi police,” the statement says.
Another statement quotes Husain expressing his solidarity with the summit organizers saying his 15 year-old “struggle” is testimony to the fact that it would be impossible for the summit to include his works without adequate support from the state and police.
Deputy Commissioner of Police, New Delhi, Shankar Das, said the India Trade Promotion Organization venue, where the summit is to be held, is not eligible for police protection as it flouts fire licensing regulations.
In response to the summit organizers’ accounts of having approached culture secretary Jawahar Sircar and Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit for support, Das said he was unaware of any specific request for police protection for the summit.
Nidhi Jain, director, Ragini Art Gallery, said she has plans of taking Husain Par Fida to the international circuit. “We had plans to go to Dubai and London with the exhibition in December 2009 but felt the need to open the exhibit now in response to the India Art Summit controversy. We are looking at having Husain inaugurate the exhibition himself at the international venues,” she says. Gossain, who has met but never spoken to Husain, is keen on gifting some of the tribute works to Husain.
Husain Par Fida by Ravi Gossain will be on exhibit at Gallery Ragini, F-213 C, Lado Sarai, New Delhi from 20 August to 31 August.