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MF Husain was India's most secular artist: Nepal curator

Friday June 10, 2011 09:26:59 PM, Sudeshna Sarkar, IANS

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Kathmandu: Nepali curator Sangeeta Thapa says M.F. Husain was India's "most secular artist" even though Hindu fundamentalists had managed to create a "fear psychosis" about his paintings.

"He was the most secular artist in India. If he had not been, he would not have used repeated Hindu and Christian motifs in his paintings. Artists can dream of whatever they want to. It was a shame that he was hounded out," said Thapa, who owns the Siddhartha Art Gallery, one of the best-known galleries in Nepal.

Thapa first met Husain in the mid-1990s when she was living in Chennai. She remembers attending a dinner thrown by N. Ram, editor of The Hindu daily, where she was seated between "two giants" - Husain and film director Mani Ratnam.

At another dinner, Husain gallantly presented her with an impromptu painting - an elephant sketched on a linen napkin with a black felt pen.

"At that time, Husain's silk screen paintings cost about Rs.5,000," she says nostalgically. "But I wanted to buy an oil of his at that time and passed up the chance."

Much later, when she bought the silk screen paintings, the price had gone up considerably. Now the painting of Mother Teresa and another one with Krishna and Shiva have pride of place in her beautiful Kathmandu residence.

Thapa later met Husain at an exhibition of South Asian paintings in Lahore's Alhamra Gallery. She remembers how struck she was by his "usual elegance" - the flowing white beard, black kurta and his "trademark signature" - the bare feet.

"It's one thing to be barefoot in India," she says with a laugh. "But it was cold in Lahore and I wondered how he did it."

In two days, the maestro had covered a wall of the gallery with his horses, filling her and other onlookers with awe.

"It was incredible energy and incredible lines," she says.

When Hindu groups began attacking Husain and accusing him of denigrating the Hindu pantheon, Thapa says there was a "fear psychosis" about his paintings.

When she bought the silk screen paintings and an edition of 12 black and gold sketches of his Benaras drawings, she remembers how nervous the seller was, filling her with the same nameless apprehension.

He asked her not to display the paintings, and she says she wrapped them up carefully and brought them to Nepal almost surreptitiously.

"A friend of mine put up some of Husain's paintings at Asia House in London and Hindu fundamentalists exported their terror even there and had them slashed. It sent shock waves in India," she said.

When Thapa heard of Husain's death, her first reaction was that of sorrow.

But now, she is hoping that the courts of India will "declare null and void the thousands of cases against him".

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at




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Picture of the Day

A shattered photograph of the artist in a vandalised exhibition in New Delhi in August, 2008. The artist and his paintings have been a target of a Hindutva hate campaign. Some groups alleged that his work hurt religious sensitivities.

(Photo: V.V. Krishnan/ The Hindu)



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