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Artistic Freedom?

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The artist is the creator of beautiful things. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect few to whom beautiful things mean only beauty. ~ Oscar Wilde

Going by the above quote, or going by your own ethical standards (irrespective of your religion), what kind of beauty do you see in the nude pictures of Hindu Goddesses painted by M. F. Hussain? Or are you one of those who 'try' to find beautiful meanings in ugly things? Irony, eh?

I wouldn’t have bothered to write about this had it not been for some 'intellectuals' going gaga over M. F. Hussain’s 'artistic freedom' and crying as to how he was humiliated in his own country. He was forced to leave the country and for a valid reason.

I don’t believe in superpower. I don’t believe that there is someone else above my parents. In this regard, I’m an atheist. But it doesn’t mean I don’t go to temples along with my mother when she wants me to. It doesn’t mean I don’t take part in Poojas and festivals. It doesn’t mean I don’t belong to a religion. I do. I am a Hindu – who enjoys listening to the stories of Gods and Goddesses, and believes that there is something good to learn from them. I do have immense respect towards those teachings, towards those who believe them and pray without asking anything in return. It’s just that I don’t believe that I have to please someone I don’t see (or feel) to get things done. It’s irrational to me.

Stories have always ruled my world (they still continue to do so). It began with my mother. I never went to sleep without a story. Gods and Goddesses, Ramayana and Mahabharatha – that’s all Mother India chose to tell me about when I was little. And I enjoyed them to the core.

As I grew up my convictions about an external influence began to falter. Bhagavad Gita says that one should first believe in himself. I believed in that. In the midst of these doubts and confusions and arguments (with my mother and also with me), my respect for the mythological stories and what they had to offer to us never deteriorated. When I go to a temple and see the deity, Saraswati or Lakshmi or Hanuman or any God that is beautifully adorned with festoons of flowers, vermilion, turmeric, tulsi leaves, etc., I automatically join hands. I, like most Hindus, have grown up with this culture. I am used to it.

‘Mother’ is the most beautiful, most sacred and the most powerful word. No matter what language the term is associated with – Maa, Amma, Mummy – the feeling behind it is same. That’s why Goddesses like Lakshmi, Saraswati, Durga, Kali are prefixed with Maa or Amma. And when a person, who doesn’t know anything about these sentiments, about the culture, paints these Goddesses in the nude, in the name of artistic freedom, how can it be tolerated? When I’m used to seeing these Goddesses clad in beautiful saris, how can I tolerate when they are painted in the nude? Artists have always painted nude women, but they were just common, unknown women, and not Goddesses. But M. F. Hussain did the exact opposite.

Goddess Durga is shown copulating with a lion/tiger, a nude Sita is sitting on the thigh of Ravan, while a nude Hanuman is trying to attack Ravan; then a nude Sita is sitting on the tail of Hanuman; a nude Hanuman with his genitals pointing towards a woman, a nude Lakshmi sitting on an elephant, a nude Saraswati playing Veena, a nude Parvati, and finally, a nude Bharat Mata. These are M. F. Hussain’s so-called artistic works.

It wouldn’t have been termed as blasphemy (maybe a pervert mind’s output) had he just mentioned them as common women, but he had the audacity to mention their proper names. Is doing whatever one wants is freedom of expression?

If painting Hindu Goddesses in the nude is indeed artistic freedom, as some say and believe, then why didn’t he paint his own mother and daughter that way? Why did he choose to dress them up when he painted them? Double standards? Maybe it’s inappropriate to say this, but nonetheless this point does come up. To hell with being inappropriate, this point should be brought up.

There is another painting where a nude Brahmin is standing next to a fully clad Muslim King. Why not paint both in the nude? Didn’t his artistic freedom allow him to do that? Wonder how the people of Qatar (and Muslim people in India) would have reacted if he had painted a nude woman and given the name, Fatima or Nasreena! Maybe it’s easy for him to play with the sentiments of other people.

Page 3 darlings cried at the top of their voices when he was forced to leave the country. They did it again when he passed away, saying that he wasn’t understood in his own country, that people didn’t know what artistic freedom meant, that they didn’t have respect for an artist’s freedom of expression. They continue by saying that although he yearned to return to India, he was forced to stay away. Without an option, he accepted the nationality of Qatar – a Muslim country. Now, would the people of Qatar have kept quiet if he had painted some Muslim prophet in the nude?

In the early nineties, in the children’s section of The Hindu, a cartoon picture of a Muslim prophet had been published. In that cartoon strip, the prophet was found teaching some lessons from Koran. It was all done in good faith, to teach children some valuable lessons in the form of a cartoon strip. That is all. A public outcry broke out in the country for showing the prophet as a cartoon character. The Newsstands that sold copies of The Hindu were burned down. Goons rushed into the office of The Hindu. A threat to raise the issue in the Parliament through a Private Members Bill was held out. The very next day the newspaper published an apology letter in the front page. Ironically, the editor of The Hindu, N. Ram supported M. F. Hussain, saying that the latter was an artist and was free to imagine things (read Hindu Gods and Goddesses) in anyway he wanted. Talk about secularism!

Those who support him bring up the question, “Khajuraho sculptures also depict sex. When that is acceptable, then why not Hussain’s paintings?” That’s because those are just sculptures of ordinary men and women. They are not labeled as Durga, Saraswati, etc. like Hussain did. Those were the times when electricity was not invented, let alone computer or Internet. So people could not have visited any porn sites. No Raginis and their MMSs. Some sculptors chose to sculpt their fantasies. Maybe Khajuraho sculptures have deep meaning, I don’t know. But what I do know is that they are not the sculptures of any Gods and Goddesses.

Agreed Indians gave Kamasutra to the world, but then again, imagining a nude woman is totally different from imagining one’s own mother or sister in the nude, isn’t it? Only people with pervert minds are capable of imagining like that. What kind of sick comparison is that anyway? Comparing Khajuraho to Hussain’s nude paintings of Goddesses?

Apart from these, his paintings range from a woman copulating with a bull, a horse and other animals. How is this art? Oh, no, wait. This is modern art, eh? Anyway …

Almost every Hindu family’s Pooja room is adorned with those famous portraits of Saraswati and Lakshmi. Saraswati, clad in an elegant white sari, is sitting on a small rock and playing Veena; whereas Lakshmi, clad in an orange sari, is standing on a Lotus flower in a small pond, with a few elephants and swans playing in the background. These are painted by Ravi Varma, one of the most profound artists. Now after seeing these portraits regularly, try and have a look at the so-called Indian Picaso’s nude paintings of the Goddesses. If your stomach still doesn’t churn, then maybe you are having some serious mental problems.

Art should inspire people. It should never hurt anybody. It should drive people towards betterment. An artist should create things, beautiful things. In that process of creation, he transforms himself into someone more than a mere mortal. Creating something new, something that doesn’t exist is not easy. It requires tremendous hard work coupled with an incredible imagination. An artist calls upon his creative faculty and creates a world of his own. Ordinary mortals are mercilessly sucked into that world and are not allowed to get back to reality that easily. This is the power that an artist holds. But it becomes ugly when he creates a despicable thing in the name of creative liberty and conveniently tries to convince people that it is art, that it is beautiful, that it is creativity. Some people that cannot think from their own brains believe him; some can’t differentiate between right and wrong, and end up supporting the famous names in the society (thanks to media); only a few stick to their convictions and know exactly which art is and which isn’t.

He is no more and as I said earlier, I’d not have bothered to write this, but some people don’t seem to shut up. According to them it’s the people that were hurt by his atrocities drove him away from the country, thereby making India suffer a great loss of a great artist. According to these connoisseurs, those who complain about his ‘modern’ art are the ones with bourgeois mentality; and the ones who admire his nude art are the elite. Morons, I say.

Sure he has contributed a lot to the world of art and has been one of the prominent artists who made other countries crane their necks towards our country, but sadly, whenever I (and many like me) remember him, only those ugly paintings flash before my eyes.

Doing whatever you like is not freedom. But doing whatever you like, provided it doesn’t cause any problems to others, doesn’t hurt anybody – that is freedom.

May his soul rest in peace.

***

Here are the links to Ravi Varma and BKS Varma’s paintings:

1. http://www.cyberkerala.com/rajaravivarma/

2. http://bksvarma.com/

And here is the link to M. F. Hussain’s version of Hindu Goddesses:

http://www.metrojoint.com/photo_view.php?userid=5&aid=119985


Comments (11)

Fully agree with you. Our Indian elites will support these kind of people. If they are really keen on artistic freedom, why no support for Salman Rushdie and Tasleema Nasreen? And our politicians think they can appease Muslims by supporting terrorists and jerks while they don't give a damn to the common man Muslim.

I agree.. when I saw his paintings shown I only felt repulsion than admiration... I felt that he was using 'artistic freedom' only as an excuse...

however, I will disagree partly with last para about freedom.. only because one can never satisfy criteria of not hurting 'anyone' and also what hurts or not is relative person-to-person...

The Fool,
I forgot to mention Salman Rushdie and Taslima Nasreen's cases. Your comment completed this article. As for the so-called definition of secularism, they are just playing it safe. No wonder people like Afzal Guru and kasab are still enjoying Indian hospitality.

Sundeep,
About the last para, difference of opinion will always be there. No matter what one does, there will always be people that criticize him. But I wasn't talking about that. For eg, if you want to hear music, that's your freedom. But if you hear it in full volume and disturb your neighbours' peace of mind, then it's not freedom. This is the kind of thing I meant when I said, "...provided it doesn't cause any problems to others..."

There are too many strands in this post and I can choose to comment on any or all of them. Instead, I will allow them to gestate in my mind and probably write something.

I agree with the essence of what you're saying: M. F. Hussain's work, from what you have shown us - I know little from elsewhere - seems to have been characterised by a blatant if unconscious sense of double standard. And that is definitely objectionable.

But my dear, dear friend, the sensible individual you are, I think you still got carried away at certain places when you choose to judge people who view M. F. Hussain's paintings as harmless or when you mention perversion. There was emotion in those places, I am afraid, a bit too much (I am not stating it as a criticism, but just as an observation!) I may come across as too soft to you but morality is like mercury - the moment we try to grasp it, it slithers. Yes, we all have a sense of right and wrong and as long as we respect others' such sense like our own, there's no problem. I guess that's what you were trying to say, too - correct me if I am not - and I am in consensus with that. But there is no universal good or bad, taboo or sacred, as we all know Karthik :)

But a very well written post. I really love your non-fiction too. :D

This is a super thought provoking post.. and before I say my two bits I'd like you to know that I am no big fan of Hussain.

Even so, I don't support or reject what he did. I think that my faith is above what anyone can ever touch. If my faith can be shattered by one man's imagination in a few paintings and added particular names... it's not faith.

The point is that I place MY God above everything else. God is not a name or a painting or a stone... God is an experience. And once you have felt what being one with God feels like, you don't bother about such nonsense. It doesn't matter.

And abour Hussain, like I said, I don't accept or reject what he did. What does bother me is that the fact that he was a talented painter was over powered by the Hindu extremists? Why does a country have to go back to Hindu and Muslims on every smallest and biggest thing. Coming from you, it was even more surprising...

In all probability he did all this to get attention. And he got it. Cheap thrills, I agree. but he got it.

In the most recent event, the Ramdev incident, I did not agree with what he was saying and suff but what Congress did, bothered me.. not because they insulted the Baba.. but because they insulted the constitution by taking away the right to speech and putting your point across in a silent manner.

You see what I mean? India needs to rise above these petty issues... and if you say its not petty I agree... but you cannot keep throwing people out because they have upset someone. India is a democracy, anything one does will most definitely upset someone else, unless you keep walking in a line that has been marked for you that will not affect anyone. If everyone keeps walking that line, nothing would ever come out of it.

Other examples of people thrown out? Salman Rushdie. ROhinton Mistry left India after the emergency. Arundhati roy was blamed for inticing people againt India when she said something For the Naxalites.

You cannot expect people to agree with whatever you say and still force them to say they are democratic.

I think, religion is India is a weakness, when it should actually be a power. God, is above all this. So should we try to be.

Srini,
I quite disagree, Srini.
However I agree on being a bit too personal. It is actually. It's subjective in nature. I never intended this to be an observational post. My strong personal views, yes.

There is no universal good or bad, I agree. But when when such things come out in the open, standards come into play. By what standards do you say something is right or wrong? That's the question. Everyone is right from his point of view. He is right even if he murders someone, cheats someone. Religious fanatics are like that. But what I was trying to say is that no one has the right to offend someone's deeply rooted faith under the name of artistic freedom and cover his own hide when the same question of artistic freedom is brought up. And when some people (in this case those who don't even understand his art, but buy his works as a matter of prestige) starts supporting him in the name of creative liberty and secularism, that's more objectionable than the person in question. Secularism. Talk about Afzal guru and kasab and the lot! They won't do that. This is what I meant.

Maybe you still disagree with me. :) But then again, it's quite a complex topic to discuss at length. 'The End' is hard to come by. :)

Niti,
That's quite an insightful comment.
But I think you got me wrong at some places. For one, I never supported him being forced to leave the country. I merely stated the fact as to why he was made to leave the country. That's all. I recently had the same conversation with a friend on fb. Forcing someone to leave the country is a bit extreme, and I don't support it one bit. This brings us to Rohinton Mistry and Salman Rushdie.

People who supported M F Hussain for his artistic freedom are the same people who screwed Mistry, Taslima, Rushdie and the lot. That was ok for them. But not this. Why? Because grilling someone who paints hindu goddesses becomes a question of artistic freedom, of secularism.

About the point you made on hindus and muslims. Why everything has to come to that? It doesn't in the first place actually. When you firmly believe in something, when you worship it, when it defines who you are - be it music, writing, god, religion, etc - and when someone tries to rape the very core of your belief system, how do you respond? When someone talks about your parents, whom you believe are your gods, how do you respond? Do you still say that no matter what people say about them, my faith won't be shattered? Maybe it doesn't shatter our faith, but the question is, 'Should we tolerate? If yes, to what extent?'

We should raise above any religion, god or anything related to it, I totally agree with you.
But think about this. When the muslim kings destroyed thousands of hindu temples, was that ok? Maybe it happened a long time back, but the question is same. Should we tolerate when someone attacks something we worship, something we believe in? This isn't about hindus or muslims, although the perpetrators relating to the given example are the latter, it's a question of standing up to what we believe in, protecting our faith.

And as I said at the beginning of the post, I'm an atheist. I don't for a moment believe that someone is guiding me towards light. Neither do/have I experience/d anything godly, any external supernatural power.

Totally agree with you on Ramdev incident though.

Maybe you don't agree with me completely. It was a complex topic to begin with. ;)

There is NO end in sight Karthik for you as you have yourself have indicated we would probably agree to disagree. I am absolutely cool by it for too much of agreement would make the world too drab a place to live in. ;)

Just one clarification: if you go back to my earlier comment, I was - and AM - fully with you on the issue of double-standards. So, yes, I do agree with you when you say that when a person's work offends a majority, STANDARDS do come into place. I don't have problems with that. The only thing I had an issue with was the slightly emotional tinge the post assumed in places despite being rationally on the money otherwise :) And you have addressed that in your reply.

All's well buddy :D

Srini,
:) All's always well with us. :)

Couldn't agree more with you.I'm not a lot into this artistic things and so my knowledge is limited.But still then I truly believe that in the name of artistic freedom jerks like MF Hussain and others have always played with the sentiments of people of india specially hindus.Came after a long break to your blog and I'm completely elated and at the same time this article of yours really ignited many minds including me.DoI need to say its another superb piece of writing?? You know how really I love reading your stories and articles.Grear going Karthik!!

Sanjay,
Thanks a lot, Sanjay. Glad you agree with my opinions.
Hope you are doing fine.

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