Artist M. F. Husain Banned Again at India Art Summit, Following Terrorism Threats

For the second year in a row, one of India’s swankiest art events, the India Art Summit, is being overshadowed by terrorism threats, according to Artnet. The event is set for August 19-22, 2009, at the Pragati Maidan exhibition center in New Dehli, with fifty-four galleries—primarily from India, but including a handful from the US (Aicon Gallery, Thomas Erben) and the UK (Artquest, Lisson, Rob Dean Art, and W. H. Patterson). At the inaugural India Art Summit in 2008, controversy swirled around the organizers’ prohibition of the display of works by M. F. Husain, following threats from right-wing Hindu groups. The ban has been repeated for the 2009 edition, to the dismay of Husain’s dealers, members of the Indian art community, and relatives of the ninety-three-year-old artist.

Husain is regularly referred to as a “legend” of the Indian art world. His achievements, however, have been somewhat overshadowed in recent years by a few controversial works depicting Hindu goddesses Durga and Saraswati in the buff (the artist himself is a Muslim), which have inflamed religious sentiments. Threats against his life led him to go into self-imposed exile in 2006—according to the New York Times, at one point there was even an eleven-million-dollar bounty on his head—and he now divides his time between homes in London and Dubai.

On Sunday, organizers of the India Art Summit released a statement once again forbidding inclusion of Husain’s work by exhibitors. “While we acknowledge the lifelong achievements and the iconic status of artists like M. F. Husain in Indian art, ” it read, “we are unable to put the entire collective concern at risk by showcasing artists who have, in the past, been received with hostility by certain sections of the society unless we receive protection from the government and the Delhi police.”

In 2008, the exclusion of Husain drew the attention of foreign luminaries like Robert Storr, who was quoted as saying that “if you have one of the most famous artists of India not present then people should think twice about how it happened. ” Within India, the incident stirred enough passion that a group of supporters, the SAHMAT collective, organized an exhibition of reproductions of Husain works at India International Center in protest—though anti-Husain vandals did in fact disrupt this show, giving some credence to the fair’s concerns.