Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 March 2018

Bold brush with Husain's brilliance

A group of art students with special needs is painting tributes to the late MF Husain.

From the left, Victor Sitali, 21 , from Zambia, and Zaid Jaffar, 28, from Iraq, finish their tributes to MF Husain yesterday.
From the left, Victor Sitali, 21 , from Zambia, and Zaid Jaffar, 28, from Iraq, finish their tributes to MF Husain yesterday.

DUBAI // Along the sandstone walls of a sunlit courtyard, large paintings inspired by MF Husain hang in tribute to the legendary artist.

On one canvas, a white stallion rears up in a thick, black outline with splashes of yellow, red, blue and green in the backdrop. On another painting, streaks of blue and purple focus on a solemn woman with one eye shut.

Talented young artists with special needs are creating their own powerful impressions of the artist's works. It is their way of remembering and honouring the man known as the "Picasso of India", who died last week.

The artists are capturing Husain's bold brush strokes at Mawaheb (Arabic for Talent), a studio teaching them art and sculpture at a villa inside Dubai's central Bastakiya district. The 11 students from Dubai and Sharjah have conditions including Down's syndrome, muscular dystrophy and learning difficulties.

"It [painting] makes me feel better, makes me feel great, gives me self-confidence," says Zaid Jaffar, a 28-year-old Iraqi student. "He [Husain] was a genius, he really worked hard as a painter."

The students chose the themes, said art teacher Gulshan Kavarana, who encourages them to learn more about the artist from books and the internet.

"These students don't fear a blank canvas like some artists do. They just go with the flow, and that makes their paintings spontaneous," says Mrs Kavarana, calling Husain her artistic hero.

"I thought this was the best way for them to learn and put together colours, combinations and understand his style."

Some paintings use portions of Husain's artworks and others combine colours from different paintings. Their work reflects the influence of Husain's signature style of strong, kohl-like borders blending with vivid colours.

The paintings will be on sale at the studio, which has also invited art lovers to commission specific paintings that will be completed in the artist's trademark style.

Husain died last Thursday in London aged 95 years old following a heart attack. He had lived in Dubai for four years in exile after right-wing Hindu groups objected to his paintings of nude goddesses.

He was charged with insulting the Hindu faith, and his Mumbai home and exhibitions in India were attacked by mobs. He was later acquitted by India's Supreme Court.

The painter was frequently seen in Dubai before he was offered Qatari citizenship last year.

Mrs Kavarana met him at a restaurant a couple of years ago and asked if he would contribute to a project she planned along with artists with special needs.

"He agreed immediately; he was very open to the idea," she says, regretting that she never followed up on the project. "I just wish I had got down to it and made it a reality."

The students, too, say they would have loved to learn from Husain.

Using sign language, Victor Sitali, 21, of Zambia, says he likes the face, body and energy of the lively horses Husain made famous. He gestures with a thumbs-up sign to show his delight in the late artist's work he checked on Facebook and Google.

Seated around a wooden table covered with palettes and unfinished canvases, the students reel off the information they have learned, from the cause of Husain's death to the number of paintings he created.

Husain was also known for his series on Bollywood actresses. Asked which celebrity they would paint, the students fill the compact art room with shouts ranging from the singer Rihanna, to the Indian movie star Salman Khan, to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Sharan Budhrani, who is in a wheelchair, says he wishes he had the opportunity to see Husain paint.

"His strokes are so free, I would have liked to learn, to see him paint the horses," says a wistful Sharan, 20, of Pune in western India. "We could have learned so much. I like his creativity and his freedom of expression."

The students say they hope to learn from Husain, even after his death.

"It's relaxing, that's why I enjoy painting," says Rebecca Hayday, 19, of Britain. "It would have been interesting to have him here, but then he is not alive anymore. Still his paintings can teach us a lot, we can still learn."