Article written by DPDF 2008 Muslim Modernities Research Director Bruce Lawrence.
Few modern artists so consistently embodied a fuzzy logic of their own as did the Indian painter Maqbool Fida Husain (1915–2011). His critics tried to define him as a reckless defamer of Hindu values, but another way to define him is as a dutiful devotee of a vision that was inclusive, rather than exclusive, and that understood all boundaries and identities as fluid or blurry, rather than as fixed and immutable. Or one might say that Husain strove to project what Ashis Nandy has called “Indian-style secularism,” celebrating creation, humanity, and beauty in the multiple religious forms of the subcontinent. Having lived and painted in India all his life, he was forced into exile in his nineties by right-wing Hindu politicians. In London, he continued to work on a new interpretation of Indian civilization as universally relevant, in a sequence of paintings with themes from the Mahabharata, while, in Doha, a royal patron commissioned him to paint a series relating Islamic and Christian civilization. The two series are shown, in this essay, to best exhibit Husain’s view of “all distinctions” as “political, artificial.”