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Hindu case against 'obscene' Muslim artist fails
May 8, 2007 4:13 AM   Subscribe

Proceedings against MF Husain have been stayed in India's Supreme Court. A painting by the celebrated Muslim artist, apparently depicting Mother India as a nude, led Hindus to bring an obscenity case and proceedings to seize his Mumbai property were initiated. However his lawyers moved swiftly to frustrate the action, transferring the property into his son's name and then seeking the High Court ruling. Hindus have taken offense at previous paintings by Husain, depicting Hindu deities in allegedly obscene ways. Others disagree.
posted by Phanx (41 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I suspect that the offence is not due to the naked depictions of the deities, but instead the result of a Musim depicting them that way. As your last link says, India is full of the most beautiful and varied sacred art, much of which is at least as racy as these paintings. The erotic carvings at Khajuraho and Konark spring to mind.
posted by WPW at 4:36 AM on May 8, 2007


Foolishly, I pressed "post" accidentally, before completing my comment.

Khajuraho

Konark
posted by WPW at 4:40 AM on May 8, 2007


I suspect that the offence is not due to the naked depictions of the deities, but instead the result of a Musim depicting them that way. (sic)

C'mon WPW. It seems to me it is more likely the fact that the artist is "celebrated" (one of the highest-paid painters in the world, a recipient of India's civilian awards Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan) rather than "Muslim".
posted by three blind mice at 4:55 AM on May 8, 2007


Well it's not like he kissed anyone or anything.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:01 AM on May 8, 2007


I'm sure he'd be stoned to death in Saudi Arabia for painting something like that.
posted by delmoi at 5:05 AM on May 8, 2007


Controversies like these are dime a dozen. It will soon fizzle out.
posted by chrisranjana.com at 5:10 AM on May 8, 2007


I like these paintings a lot better than I liked most of the Mohammed cartoons that raised a similar(ish) controversy a while back. I know the quality (or otherwise) of the work isn't the focus of the kerfuffle but I think it's harder to accuse these of being deliberately provocative.
posted by Drexen at 5:21 AM on May 8, 2007


Maybe I'm being culturally insensitive, but what is a Muslim artist doing depicting humans at all?
posted by DU at 5:25 AM on May 8, 2007


Maybe I'm being culturally insensitive, but what is a Muslim artist doing depicting humans at all?

Excellent point DU. That is one of the many things forbidden by the Koran. I guess now that you've pointed it out, he'll have to deal with a fatwah too.
posted by three blind mice at 5:29 AM on May 8, 2007


No need to get upset about badly done art.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:36 AM on May 8, 2007


Maybe I'm being culturally insensitive, but what is a Muslim artist doing depicting humans at all?

Could it be that not all Muslims are fire breathing fundamentalists? My impression is that Muslims in India are not particularly zealous, and in fact "Muslim" over there simply means secular. Salmon Rushdie was a "Muslim", for example. That's just my impression though.

DU you are very culturally illiterate, no offense.
posted by delmoi at 5:48 AM on May 8, 2007


Could it be that not all Muslims are fire breathing fundamentalists?

Is the injuction against human images a fundamentalist thing, though? I thought it was more like the rules against alcohol in that, and other, religions i.e. pretty widely observed. But as you note, perhaps not by Muslims in India.
posted by DU at 5:59 AM on May 8, 2007


Egads, any religious proscription taken seriously seems to be observed as fundie indications in the west. Jews observing Kashrut; Catholics going to confession? Fundies. I suppose that line isn't drawn in the sand but it's a bit odd when you don't expect religious convictions to impact on a person's behaviour at all.

Not a personal comment, delmoi. I've always just thought that was strange.
posted by dreamsign at 6:13 AM on May 8, 2007


Is the injuction against human images a fundamentalist thing, though?

The Muslim prohibition against icons is one of the pillars of Islam - like the divinity of Christ is to Christians. It hardly makes one a fire-breathing fundamentalist, or even zealous. Perhaps what is wrong is to refer to Husain as a Muslim at all.
posted by three blind mice at 6:22 AM on May 8, 2007


Is is possible to be culturally Muslim without being religiously Muslim the way it's possible to be culturally Jewish without being religiously Jewish?
posted by Richard Daly at 6:25 AM on May 8, 2007


It seems to me it is more likely the fact that the artist is "celebrated" (one of the highest-paid painters in the world, a recipient of India's civilian awards Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan) rather than "Muslim".

No, I think that's the reason why we got to hear about this row, but not why the row started.
posted by WPW at 6:29 AM on May 8, 2007


MF Husain -- India's own painting troll! (Takes one to know one.)
posted by gorgor_balabala at 6:52 AM on May 8, 2007


Controversies like these are dime a dozen.

Do they accept PayPal?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:00 AM on May 8, 2007


The Muslim prohibition against icons is one of the pillars of Islam - like the divinity of Christ is to Christians.

That's not really true. Although a lot of people still silently wince at cameras, etc., the fact of the matter is that most Muslims (anywhere) can deal with portraits, paintings, etc. As you're aware, the vast majority of religious people pick and choose which teachings to follow.
posted by Firas at 7:23 AM on May 8, 2007


Yes, three blind mice is correct. Islam is pretty clear about this point. Yes, Saudia Arabian corts would kill him. But Muslim religious leaders won't criticize non-Muslim behavior which pisses off a compeating religion, and was committed outside of their country.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:27 AM on May 8, 2007


One thing that puzzled me slightly was the way the Sanatan people, as part of their campaign against the images, have republished them all on their website.
posted by Phanx at 8:29 AM on May 8, 2007



Is the injuction against human images a fundamentalist thing, though?

Yes, it is only ultra-orthodox Muslims who object to human images.

Less orthodox Muslims are primarily concerned that the Prophet Mohammed not be physically depicted, so that his worship is avoided, and particularly that his image is not denigrated.

I would be very surprised if even in Saudi Arabia, e.g., the art schools there prohibit figure drawing--perhaps nudes, but not the depicition of humans altogether.

The Hindu fundamentalist movement in India is very dangerous, violent and based mainly on anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred. MF Husain has done nothing that has not been done before (as evident in many Hindu temples) ... it is precisely because he is Muslim that the Hindu fanatics are in a tizz.

And yes, one can be culturally Muslim and not practice, though some orthodox Muslims (and certainly the fundamentalists) may view them as non-Muslim.
posted by Azaadistani at 9:07 AM on May 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oh and both threeblindmice and jeffburdges don't know what they're talking about, insult the intelligence of this forum, and are really doing a disservice to themselves and to those who might naively believe them.

threeblindmice: The Islamic prohibition against icons is NOT one of the pillars of Islam.

jeffburdges: while I am not a fan of the Saudi monarchy, nor their antiquated laws, the Saudi "corts" would not "kill him" in this context. Is your errant belief at all based on any fact or on your doubtless crystal clear understanding of the Saudi legal system, Islam and that part of the world?
posted by Azaadistani at 9:15 AM on May 8, 2007


It's now a $12 fine to kiss publicly in Delhi.

Glad the case failed. Good. Never liked Husain's paintings but it does seem completely strange to target his depictions of nakedness in light of Kajuraho or most of Hindu art. Perhaps it's a Muslim painting Hindu images that's the point of the scapegoating?
posted by nickyskye at 9:36 AM on May 8, 2007


DU you are very culturally illiterate, no offense.

Says the man referencing "Salmon" Rushdie.
posted by jtron at 9:57 AM on May 8, 2007


Azaad:

Looking at the artists work, I see depictions of Jesus and Muhammad's daughter Fatima (Fully clothed).

My understanding of the Saudi legal system is far from clear, but I would not wish to come under its jurisdiction if I had done that.

My guess, such as it is, would be public lashings for depicting "A Prophet" and members of "The Last Prophet's Family."

Are you familiar enough with Saudi jurisprudence to confirm or correct me?
posted by bornjewish at 10:01 AM on May 8, 2007


This thread is embarassing on so many levels. If you don't have anything reasonably grounded in fact to say, don't say anything at all. If I wanted freewheeling speculation on Islam, I'd go over to the freeper boards. I came here hoping to have a reasonable discussion on resurgent Hindu fundamentalism in Gujurat within the past two years and instead found people whose understanding of India seems limited to enjoying Chicken Tikka Masala and who get their talking points on Islam from the Dummies guide.

Ignorance like this is what lets the RSS cells in America control and limit public discourse.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:12 AM on May 8, 2007 [3 favorites]


Oh and both threeblindmice and jeffburdges don't know what they're talking about, insult the intelligence of this forum, and are really doing a disservice to themselves and to those who might naively believe them.

That's a bit harsh Azaadistani. It has been my (perhaps naïve) understanding of Islam that that icon worship ranks alongside poly-theism as one the big no-nos that Mohammad laid down? The prohibition against polytheism and icon worship may not be a Pillar of Islam (note the use of the upper case indicating a proper noun), but is it not a pillar (note the use of the lower case) of the religion? Or is this just a minor point only "fire-breathing fundamentalist" Muslims believe?

Please, enlighten me with your wisdom and learning.
posted by three blind mice at 10:28 AM on May 8, 2007


MF Hussain has always had a history of controversial works, I do believe that is one of the functions of a celebrated artist, no?

He was vilified for depicting Mother Teresa as a hollow veil, depicting Lord Ganesha as the uber classic [my favourite] "Dancing Ganeshas" and also called Madhuri Dixit his muse.

Hussain began as a painter of hoardings and billboards in the slums of Bombay decades ago, and Indians with any discernable artistic sense know his role in bringing contemporary Indian art to the global arena - his paintings have been auctioned by Christie's et al

Otoh, in any culture, country and religion [and I'm not going to drop my experiental credentials in this case such as having lived in Ahmedabad, Gujurat, Calcutta, West Bengal and New Delhi among other major cities in India as well as gentler muslim cultures such as Singapore or Malaysia's *snark* and I was born in to a hindu family]

there will be those who will use whatever excuse they may sieze upon by which to fire the mobs into frenzy on behalf of some kind of political agenda or the other.

Hussain's work as very little to do with his religion and more to do with the multiplistic experiences that living in India - home to all major religions in the world - gives you.

Imho, these kind of silly protests have always taken place in India and we've always ignored them.
posted by infini at 10:54 AM on May 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow those paintings are bad. I got angry just by being tricked into clicking the links.
posted by acetonic at 11:06 AM on May 8, 2007


Wow, those paintings are good. Thank you for the links.

Ain't art a bitch?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:19 AM on May 8, 2007 [1 favorite]


Allen S:

If you have something to add about Shiv Sena, the Ayodhya Incident, the BJP or Hindu fundamentalism in general please do so.

Otherwise heed your own advice.
posted by bornjewish at 11:27 AM on May 8, 2007


Good post. Thanks, Phanx.
posted by homunculus at 11:35 AM on May 8, 2007


Wow, what a talented artist and thorough, balanced post. Thanks Phanxs.

I’ve agree with WPW, the offence found here must linked to the artist being muslim. It all seemed pretty tame to me. Sexy sure, but tame. With the exception of “Naked Goddess Sita sitting on the tail of Naked Lord Hanuman” and “A bull having sexual intercourse with Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva watching on the auspicious day of Shivratri” I wouldn’t have thought there was any sex going on at all if not for the titles. And in “A bull having sexual intercourse with Goddess Parvati and Lord Shiva watching on the auspicious day of Shivratri” I would have pinned it on the little white guy.
Judging by the expression worn on the face of the tiger in “Goddess Durga in the nude having sexual intercourse with a tiger” it was just as surprised about the sex in that painting as I was.

I’m sure its very offensive to people who are Hindu and/or more artistically perceptive than myself, and I’m sorry about that for two reasons. First for missing out on the chance to enjoy the work of a IMHO very talented artist, but secondly, and more importantly, because for whatever your reasoning, faulty or flawless, it always sucks to feel like someone is defiling something you hold dear. No one likes to be on the receiving end of a “here, this is art because you’re barbaric enough to let it piss you off” cultural exchange, but sometimes that’s the price you pay for living life on a planet filled with people who have diverse, passionate opinions. It seems like a pretty healthy way to clash cultures to me, considering the usual alternatives.
posted by BostonJake at 1:14 PM on May 8, 2007


The Saudi analogy doesn't really make sense here.

India, despite its many problems, is a much more structurally open society than Saudi Arabia is (both informally because of its inherited diverse culture and formally because of its British-derived government and judicial structures.)

A good example is this: in India, the government doesn't care about Valentine's Day. You can gift your Valentine all you want. But occasionally to score political points, the petty hindutva politicos whip their recruits into a frenzy to go smashing gift stores.

In Saudi Arabia on the other hand, nobody officially sells roses on valentine's day (I'm not sure whether this is explicit by law or just understood by the sellers). If you have connections you can get them though, and nobody will hunt you down. So it's both a very controlled system and one in which (as with all controlled systems) lots of things can slip through if you're lucky.

So the systematic difference is that in India the mainstream structure is secular while the reactionary elements are transgressive. Meanwhile in KSA the mainstream structure is reactionary while the liberal agents can be transgressive.

My point is that in KSA, things probably wouldn't have gotten to the point where something like that is being sold in an exhibition. See what I mean? Something like that would be clamped down well before it got to that point.

Add to that the fact that the Saudi judicial system is way less accountable than India's: there are lot more shades of grey in what can happen to you in KSA, and if you're a celebrated artist like Husain, my money is on the probability that some prince or other will let you off with the understanding that he can't protect you forever. It's a dynamic that's pretty familiar with any non-liberal system of government (think Iran or historical Europe); lots of small centers of power.
posted by Firas at 1:41 PM on May 8, 2007


Indeed, the last thing they want in the Kingdom is outrage--any kind of outrage that causes public protests. The political and media system just doesn't allow for stuff like that. It doesn't matter whether the outrage is reactionary or revolutionary, pro-Islam or anti-theocratic.
posted by Firas at 1:47 PM on May 8, 2007


whereas, imho, going by Amartya Sen's discussions on India's flavour of securalism in his book The Argumentative Indian, its particularly open and 'free for all'.

That is because Sen uses it, along with "exoticist" and "curatorial," to describe the three perspectives from which the West has tended to view India (each of which he dissects and discredits with precision and finesse). He is particularly critical of the Western overemphasis on India's religiosity at the expense of any recognition of the country's equally impressive rationalist, scientific, mathematical and secular heritage, fields treated by Orientalists as "Western spheres of success."

"There is certainly a need for some emendation here," Sen adds dryly. Emendation he provides, in capacious detail. Sen convincingly demonstrates that Asian (and specifically Indian) traditions of rationality and scientific liberalism go further back than Western ones and have been just as important as the religious or mystical strains in shaping India's heritage. There is none of the economist's propensity to theorize on the basis of airy assumptions here; Sen's arguments are grounded in a keenly felt, deeply empathetic reading of Indian history and culture, augmented by a breadth and depth of research (extensively footnoted) that is breathtaking in its range and scholarly eclecticism. The essays are also informed by Sen's passionate concern for the impoverished, undernourished and marginalized, especially women. The Nobel citation lauded him for restoring "an ethical dimension to the discussion of vital economic problems," and a strong moral sense is never absent from his prose.


reference
posted by infini at 2:01 PM on May 8, 2007


Ouch, sorry about how horribly out of sync my last comment was. I guess that’s what happens when I write my response going into work and send my response on the way out. Seems that the fact the dispute in fact involves Muslims and Hindu’s was pretty well established about… oh seven hours ago. My bad.
posted by BostonJake at 2:13 PM on May 8, 2007


MF Hussain _was_ targetted by a fatwah three years back. One of the qawwalis he wrote for his movie Meenaxi, Noor-ul-Ala, was declared 'unislamic' because it was describing Allah. Too lazy to google it out, sorry.

(As I understand it, Allah is idiomatically referred to as Divine Light or something in traditional Sufi verse. For what it's worth, thought I'd also add that most folks involved with that song - the lyricist MF Hussain, the music director, AR Rehman and the actor/dancer in question, Tabu - are Muslim.)

Also, thought I'd mention that it is a bit unfair to invoke _Khajuraho_ in this context because the sexually-explicit sculptures there are secular in nature. Hindu temple art has always been a mix of religious motifs and secular depictions; for instance, the Angkor Wat has a huge mural depicting Suryavarman II's battles.

Religious art has traditionally been sexually _ambigious_ ; gods regularly change genders, they slouch, they strike unattractive poses, have exaggerated expressions and in general aren't what you'd consider as sensual. So, whether he's Muslim or otherwise, it _is_ fair to say that MF Hussain had struck new ground when he drew Hindu gods in nude.

That said, there is no _restriction_ in Hindu theology against bringing sensuality into religious art; there's a fair literary tradition of bringing sensuality (SRngaara) into religious literature (Bhakti). Meerabai's love poems for Krishna and Sri Krishnadeevaraaya's epic poem aamuktamaalyada come to mind. SRngaara is traditionally considered to be one of the many elements in bhakti may be represented.

In short, the protests are solely based on a question of taste; there's no basis in religious law or anything.

And oh, there's also a definite element of (what I call as) competitive authoritarianism involved; in the wake of protests against those Mohammed cartoons and the banning of Da Vinci Code in certain states, the Hindu far-right had converted MF Hussain into their pet whipping stone.

In either case, Hussain's legacy is extremely secure; as I see it, his art is an interesting bridge between 19th century Indo-European art (Ravi Verma), 20th century modern art and populist Indian art, if you will, you see on Indian streets.

Which is why, I think, his art had such an intense reaction; because his oeuvre is so removed from regular artwork that most folks are used to, and has this rarefied art-gallery aura about it, when people see his art, they respond only to the elements they recognize immediately (gods in this case, horses in other paintings), while ignoring the rest of his genius.

When I see his Bharat Mata pic for example, I can see where his inspiration comes from; Mother India in a Durga-isque pose juxtaposed in front of an Indian map is a very common motif indeed, and in his depiction, I see a modernist rendering of the same motif, albeit done in red, and interlaced with place names, a rising sun, someone meditating and a boat.

Most mysteriously, he wrote all the place names in English, barely scribbling them across, not really caring whether he marked Srinagar or Chennai or Gujarat in the right locations or not. Even more mysteriously, he calls Varanasi by its old name Benares, while calling Calcutta, Bombay and Madras by their new names. Why did he do it? Why is the entire drawing in baked orange? Why is there a boat for the Arabian Sea and a silouhette of a guy meditating for Bay of Bengal? Most of all, why did he vandalize his own work by carelessly scribbling those ill-formed, sophomoric, angular Roman letters across his own work?

The nipples... I'll admit it, they trouble me, they do, I'm not really used to seeing nude art in contexts such as this, but not as much as the graffitti that is these place-names. I'm both drawn and marred by it. There is so much more in this piece that I'm drawn by, and because the picture has so much more depth than being merely crude depiction, I would pause. I'll absorb it slowly, very slowly, sip it like I would sip kashayam when my throat goes bad. I'll never like this, but I wont hate it either.
posted by the cydonian at 8:51 PM on May 8, 2007


Just imagine what he'd do with Bhoomi Devi
posted by infini at 9:11 PM on May 8, 2007




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