MF Husain's family share challenges and delights of being a Husain

Mar 12, 2017, 13:41 IST | Benita Fernando

The late artist MF Husain with his family; sons Owais and Shamshad Husain (back row, from left) are among the six siblings
The late artist MF Husain with his family; sons Owais and Shamshad Husain (back row, from left) are among the six siblings

When three generations of one of India's most notable, and controversial, families present their work under one roof, you cannot help but think what it must be like to be Husain. An ongoing exhibition at a newly opened gallery, The Art Lounge, has works by MF Husain, Shamshad Husain, Owais Husain and Salamat Husain. Curated by artist Bina Aziz, the exhibition is the first time that artists from the family are showing together. The exhibition coincides as a warm-up to a launch of the Knight Frank Wealth Report 2017.

Mf Husain and son Shamshad Husain
Mf Husain and son Shamshad Husain

Owais, a multimedia artist, is the son of MF Husain as is the late artist, Shamshad. Salamat, a photographer who specialises in product, portfolio and physique shoots, is grandson to Husain. "I have known several members of the Husain family well over the years," says Aziz, "and it was a coincidence that these artists have found a place together in this group exhibition. Each of them has his own specialisation."

Owais Husain
Owais Husain

With the ongoing preview, we speak to Owais, preparing for his video installation at Art Dubai, and Salamat on what it means to grow up in a family of artists.

Salamat, grandson of MF Husain
Salamat, grandson of MF Husain

Did the prominence of MF Husain influence your interest in becoming an artist?
Salamat: Creativity does run in the family. There is a wide variety of art forms that you get to see in the family. I really loved watching Dada and [Shamshad] Uncle paint. As a child, I would help them paint and loved the analogue aspect. I don't think I have their patience. They were able to express what they felt on a canvas and it is really different with a photograph.
Owais: Between the three of us - my father, brother and I - there has been a lot of mutual respect and independence. However, we never believed in ourselves as a 'gharana' of artists. The mechanism was very different here - we had our unique practice, world view and view on art. It doesn't take away from the emotional bond that we share.

Can you tell us about Shamshad? There was a significant age difference between him and you [Owais].
Owais: Shamshad was like a father figure to me. My brother's and my father's times were very different. It was difficult to think about being an artist, about passionately following your interest. Shamshad was really in the midst of all this; he was mid-career when I began getting interested in art. He advised me against a career in the arts. It didn't seem like a viable option. However, I was serious about it since day one. It was the only way for me.

Recall some of the conversations you would have had with Husain and Shamshad.
Salamat: When I was younger, I didn't know what to ask Dada. If you asked him something, there was a chance that you could end up feeling silly. Ask him about the choice of a certain colour and he would say, "Salamat, you should read up on the history of this colour." If I spent 10 minutes with my grandfather, it was enough to learn something new. He was constantly exploring and researching.
Owais: I used to have serious arguments with my father; he was more vocal, Shamshad was more the listener. We used to discuss how much paintings sold for! Nothing very lofty and it was all very real. Father was always probing and pushing boundaries.

How do you evaluate your art practice in comparison to the other artists in the family?
Owais: Shamshad and his generation identified with social change. Shamshad did have an identity crisis, having to be the first after my father to paint in the family, and fiercely fought for his own. There was a notion of the regional artist or the national artist, such as how my father was. It is different with my generation, with the questions of Indianness and identity. I explore music, silence, sound, emotion, displacement - I wish my father and brother were here today to have those kinds of conversations with me.
Salamat: Shamshad used more browns, more earthy tones in his work while Owais and Dada were more vibrant. Somewhere down the line, their use of colours pushed me to explore that in my work but also that how complex they were - maybe through form or lines - I also sought for minimalism.

MF Husain was known to be a controversial figure. Does that inspire you?
Salamat: I am not as gutsy. I am aware of the society I am in. But I do think about his techniques. When I think of holding my first solo exhibition, I want to think like him. I want to challenge the experience of viewing photographs.

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