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Artists of the year: A modern master and contemporary
When one looks for artists whose work defines and constitutes Indian-ness in the context of contemporary concerns and globalization, two names that immediately come to mind are Subodh Gupta and M. F. Husain. Both represent two diverse spectrums of Indian art.

The two have been in news throughout the year gone by. Subodh Gupta’s own personal journey, from a sedate semi-rural country life to the burgeoning capital city, could well be an allegory of today’s fast evolving India, where humble village life is giving way to consumerist culture.

Tuned to his times, the socially conscious artist takes a dig at Capitalism's materialist ethic, even as he portrays the economic and social aspirations of the silent masses with empathy. Employing such culturally loaded mediums as bronze, steel and marble, he presents subject matters whose symbolism varies from the universal to the enigmatic, and whose emotional impact ranges from menace to nostalgia.

He featured at many prestigious shows in India and abroad in 2009, clearly making him an artist to watch out for. For example, his ‘Leap of Faith’ at the Chatsworth Park in Derbyshire in London made him the only Indian sculptor to showcase his work at this prestigious venue, joining the likes of Antony Gormley, Henry Moore, Richard Hudson, Botero, Zhan Wang and Marc Quinn, among others. His work inspired by the humble steel bucket, a common fixture in most Indian households, featured in the show, entitled ‘Beyond Limits’.

His work was showcased in ‘Passage to India – Part two’ as part of the Frank Cohen Collection at Initial Access, Wolverhampton. He was also part of the exhibit ‘Re-Imagining Asia’ for Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt that explored the meaning and relevance of the contemporary Asian art in the 21st century, within a broader context of globalization and increasing migration.

In ‘Common Man’, his new series of works at London based Hauser & Wirth, he produced a crate of nine mangoes (called ‘aam’ in Hindi, creating a pun). A curatorial note stated: “The artist moves away from composite sculptures towards objects, which possess an auratic quality. Readymade commodities experience transformations in scale and material, transmogrifying from factory-produced items into extraordinary artifacts.”

Gareth Harris of the prestigious international publication, The Financial Times, points out that his slick, intelligent usage of homespun materials reflects the tipping point of India’s economic transformation but also strikes a chord with international art audiences. If Subodh Gupta stole the headlines for his stellar show, homesick Husain, India’s most famous painter, received public and media support in his quest to return home.

For over three years, he has lived in self-imposed exile in Dubai. Tamara Abdul Hadi of The New York Times, explaining what caused the exile, mentioned in an article: “Of M. F. Husain’s exceptionally diverse body of work, he guesses, there are three that have angered his foes. Two – his highly stylized pencil drawings of the mother goddess, Durga, and the goddess of the arts, Saraswati - both faceless and nude – whereas the third is a map of India rendered as a female nude.”

It is ironic enough that icons of Indian culture seek to capture the quintessence of his subjects. His quest to trace his cultural roots coupled with an effortless grasping of diverse cultural influences marks his oeuvre. A self-taught artist, Husain moved to Mumbai at an early age and began his artistic career by painting the billboards for cinemas. He reminisces the good old days when he along with Raza, Tyeb Mehta, Bakre, Ara, Padamsee and Souza who all wanted to give Indian art a new direction and dimension.

An insightful essay in The Washington Post notes: “The flamboyant, Ferrari-driving artist divides his time between Dubai and London now. He has a large body of work that runs into literally several thousand pieces of art and comprises a series on the erstwhile British colonial Raj, Mother Teresa, Bollywood, Hindu epics and horses. His vibrant colors and bold brushstrokes hark back to his early days of struggle when he used to live on the pavements and painted cinema billboards for a living.”

A piece done by him featured in an exhibition, entitled ‘100 Years of Indian Cinema’ at the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce & Industry. The 94-year-old painter explained that he was “painting actors and scenes from films of his choice to narrate his story of the film industry in these 100 years.

His ‘Mother Teresa’ series prints Along with ‘The Five Rays of Raza’ are on view in London courtesy Tanya Baxter Contemporary at The Kings Road Gallery. Controversies continue to ‘chase’ the eminent artist. Intense protests, hundreds of cases and countless arrest warrants forced him to exile in Dubai three years ago. His works were excluded from the India Art Summit 2009 for the second year running. M. F. Husain, though, played down the exclusion, is keen to return to his homeland.

He summed up his sentiments to say, “Even though I miss not being in my homeland, I see it just as a minor element of my struggle. I’m amazed at the affection and love I still get from people back home.”