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Grand old man of controversies During a recent visit to Muscat, artist and filmmaker Maqbool Fida Hussain talked about his work and the controversies he has been embroiled in Aninda Sardar aninda@apexstuff.com

From being the highest paid Indian artist to an award-winning filmmaker and special invitee alongside Pablo Picasso at the Sao Paolo Biennial in 1971 to the subject of numerous controversies that have dogged him for more than a decade, the barefoot Indian artist Maqbool Fida Hussain has been all of it and more. Yet when asked how he would like to be remembered, the artist, whose name is synonymous with contemporary Indian art, said matter of factly, “It is up to them. I really have no say in that choice of theirs.” The artist, whose works were last exhibited in Muscat 17 years ago, was in the city to grace the recently held art exhibition titled Across Boundaries, showcasing the works of more than 20 Indian and Omani painters. “Art exhibitions are essential for the younger generation of artists. They need these platforms,” he said. “In the beginning, everyone needs to get a chance. This particular platform had no criteria for selection to be part of it. It’s for the viewers to decide what is good and bad, genuine or fake among the exhibited works. Unfortunately in this age of commercialisation, what makes a good work of art is decided by its price tag.” Although dubbed the ‘Pablo Picasso of India’ by Forbes magazine, Hussain said that the title was not something to which he gave much importance. “It’s just the ignorance of the learned people,” he said with a laugh. “Picasso was a giant in art and a great liberator of the artistic language, but there are others who are much greater. Besides, it was Cézanne who discovered the presence of cubes and cones in art. Picasso was an exponent of that

school but the media put Picasso ahead of him. The media and marketing are the monsters of today.” Over the years Hussain has been embroiled in numerous controversies, starting in 1996 when an Indian publication reproduced some of his works that depicted nude Hindu deities. Of these wranglings, which created an uproar in India, the 92 year old is almost dismissive. “As an artist, I was only bothered with the language of my artistic expression. The rest was up to the people’s imagination,” said Hussain. While his name is closely associated with painting, Hussain has also made films; he thinks film is the ultimate medium for artistic expression. “Films are also a visual form of expression and, therefore, close to an artist’s heart. Besides, it is a medium that incorporates all aspects of art.” He dreamt of filmmaking when he was just a boy of 15. “It’s just that filmmaking, unlike painting, where all you need are canvases, brushes and paint, is a very expensive medium.” He made his first film, Through the Eyes of a Painter, which won him the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, in 1967; a long gap followed before he finally embarked on Gaja Gamini. “My idea of what defines the Indian woman and the artistic expression of that would not have been complete without Gaja Gamini.” A resident of Dubai for the last few years, Hussain has been working on a series on the history of the Arab civilisation. “It is thousands of years old and fascinates me, so I embarked on this series.” Hussain has now completed 20 paintings for the series, some of which are based on Dubai, though the majority is on Qatar. Asked whether the series would include Oman, he said, “Perhaps the time has come.”

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MAY 28 2008

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