Barefoot across the Nation: Maqbool Fida Husain and the Idea of India
Barefoot across the Nation is the first inter-disciplinary effort to engage with the work and recent travails of Maqbool Fida Husain, arguably his country’s most celebrated modernist, whose professional life is intimately entangled with and revelatory of the complicated career of independent India as a democratic, secular, and multi-ethnic nation. The volume provides a multi-faceted engagement with Husain’s art and persona from a cross-section of disciplinary positions; it also crosses the bounds of academia to forge a bridge with activist interventions so vital to the issues of spectatorship, identity and creativity that cluster around the biographical and artistic trajectory of M.F. Husain. The ostensibly artist-centred approach of the book works as an effective entry point into an entire gamut of themes and questions about modernism, visual practice, history, ethics and the many layers and textures of identity. For more than half a century—and across thousands of canvases—Husain has painted individuals and objects, events and incidents that offer an astonishing visual chronicle of independent India’s many engagements with its complicated past and equally fraught modernity in a signature style that is simultaneously “Indian” and “global.” Even as he has done this, his career and work have witnessed—and in turn actively fostered—the meteoric rise to visibility of modern Indian art in international markets. Yet, what vision of his country is reflected on his canvases, and what does it tell us about both the old India of centuries past that Husain so evocatively tries to engage, and the new India of the global era? “My life’s work is my statement,” Husain has himself declared. The fourteen essays of this volume written by distinguished scholars from across the globe, scrutinise the artistic statement Husain has delivered on self, nation and community over the years, as well as understand some of the ways in which he has engaged with India—insightfully, reverentially, playfully, but also melancholically. In turn, we also consider how India has responded to Husain: with affection and admiration bordering on adulation, but also with hostility and outright rejection in recent times.