India's most famous and beleaguered artist just got the backing of India's judiciary. Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul of the Delhi High Court dismissed obscenity charges against 93-year-old MF Husain and gave a vigorous defense of artistic freedom. The complainants had argued that Husain's work offended Hindu sensibilities; they cited the painting to the right, "Bharatmata," which depicts India as a nude goddess. From IANS:
"A painter has his own perspective of looking at things and it cannot be the basis of initiating criminal proceedings against him," Kaul said in his 74-page judgement.
"In India, new puritanism is being carried out in the name of cultural purity and a host of ignorant people are vandalizing art and pushing us towards a pre-renaissance era," he observed.
The court said the question of obscenity was nowhere to be seen in his paintings, as it was his perspective of looking at things and one should not challenge that.
The court ended the judgement on the note that, "A painter at 90 deserves to be sitting in his home and painting his canvas."
Hindu groups have frequently protested against Husain, to the point that he now lives in Dubai and London. More from TOI on the ruling by the judge, who clearly relished the chance to put Husain's critics in their place:
"The judge had strong words for the complainants and said they "seem to be of the type who wouldn't go to any art gallery or have any interest in contemporary art because if they did, they would know that there are many artists who embrace nudity as part of their contemporary art."
"Ancient art has never been devoid of eroticism where sex worship and graphical representation of the union between man and woman has been a recurring feature," Justice Kaul noted, adding: "It's very unfortunate that the works of many artists today who have tried to play around with nudity have come under scrutiny and have had to face the music. We should embrace different things and different thoughts and ideas with open arms."
As if that weren't enough...
Quoting Pablo Picasso, the judge drew a distinction between artistic freedom and obscenity: "Art is never chaste - where it is chaste, it is not art." Cautioning the lower courts not to entertain such complaints as it caused undue harassment to artists, Justice Kaul said: "A magistrate must scrutinize each case in order to prevent vexatious and frivolous cases from being filed and make sure that it is not used as a tool to harass the accused, which would amount to gross abuse of process of law."
But even with this decision, Husain says he's not sure he'll move back to Mumbai: he has 3 more cases pending against him.
Earlier on SAJAforum: