Owais Husain artBahrain March 31, 2017 interview Vikash Nand Kumar in Conversation with Owais Husain What drove you to go in to the academics of Fine Arts? As children, most of us begin expressing with some form of art making. After reading about Tagore and Santiniketan, I ran away from boarding school in the pursuit of becoming a ‘hermit’ painter – away from establishment and any institution. However, after the next day of reaching Delhi, I was promptly returned to school. Ever since the beginning all I knew was to paint, even though I wished to explore many languages. Whether it was discovering the magnetism of theatre at age nine, or the free from of poetry at thirteen or the enigma of cinema at nineteen – there is a consistent need to define/construct/process/synthesise/make images. My first oil was a small painting on canvas at the age of three, the memory of which is etched like a movie in my mind. Was it very helpful to grow in an art environment and choose this as a career path? Perhaps the story may have turned elsewhere if I had begun in say, another background. I believe that it all comes down to aptitude. You could think in numbers or words or images, whatever that you apply yourself to; I believe the fault lies with the wiring or rather cross wiring in your head. Has your initial works of arts got inspired or influenced by your father’s works? Also would you like to share any other inspiration or influences? What helped me since the beginning- a sense of fearlessness and an appetite for large scale. As far as inspirations are concerned, there have been several. Over time you begin to reflect on the individuals who have inadvertently played the role of mentor or offered a radical perspective in your formative years. To name a few – my father Maqbool Fida Husain for his fearlessness; my brother the painter Shamshad for his perseverance; the pioneering collector of Indian art (and forever in the throes of his passion), Chester Herwitz, who influenced my insatiable appetite for a larger canvas (in content and material); my professor at art school, the painter Prabhakar Kolte, with a secular approach to curation of visual language; the artist J. Swaminathan, who offered an understanding of colour in the historical context to the Indian sun; the cinema of Ritwik Ghatak, his poetry in black and white; Latin American and Portuguese poetry; the writings of the histographer Romila Thapar; the artist Rekha Rodwittya, my friend and an early mentor who helped me for the first time to construct a balance between the process of making art objects and the larger intellectual enterprise. Have you ever felt that art community has got major expectations from you as your father was one of the most prominent artists of this region? With due respect to him, evidently (and fortunately for me) it doesn’t quite seem to work like that. Art making, as a practice, is never a race or in the business of measuring value in the context of multiple personalities. Also, perhaps my focus has consistently been preoccupied between processing a visual vocabulary and seeking fine balance of defining the contemporary in the fading presence of history. You have exhibited earlier with Indian galleries in group shows. Have you ever felt that viewers have tried to find the imprint of your father’s style in your works? Every viewer is a victim of his or her own intellectual-emotional-psychological-sentimental baggage. I believe that my practice has stretched over a considerable period of time to leave little opportunity for such interpretation. Generally an artist is seldom in the position of curating expectations from an audience. How do you gauge the artists’ role in the society? At every point of time, the artist has played the role of the cartographer – a maker of visual maps, outlining the complex socio-political-cultural-economic tracks of its time. Art does not save lives. The challenge lies in its complex intangibility. The artist’s burden of responsibility is weighed on the scale of his/her conscience or motive. Does the socio-political environment of Indian subcontinent leave an impact on your creativity? You have to be made of rock if this had no effect on you. The human nature and its impact on the ecosystem is a fundamental part of my conceptual and therefore art-making practice. There is much that you aspire from such an old and yet young nation. What have you brought for the viewers of India Art Fair 2017? “Mythology of Choice” is a recently constructed video installation. It is four channel video in two parts with four steel trunks, stacked vertically over each other with lids open that house the LED screens. Trunks, allegorical storehouses of memory and instruments of relocation, stand here with mouths open to the world like windows, or more like doorways. The video loops run images of still life that breathes – A condition of stasis – of survival in the age complacency. The surfaces of the trunks are layered in thick hand applied impasto, like human tracks or vestiges of free will, if the topography of voice had a physical graph. Information and Technology has improved the contemporary artists’ practices? Do you agree? That’s two questions in one. A shrinking infrastructure and therefore accessibility and outreach of information has impacted not only the business of sharing art (via instruments such as social media, e-commerce and the virtual museums of the Google Arts project), it has also diminished the library of iconography that has been historically shared among artists. Regarding the application of technology to the art making process, the discourse for me lies within the realms of context and intention. Do you crave for experimenting with mediums? Which medium do you prefer working with mostly? Any specific reason? I am fascinated with sound and the deconstruction/ assemblage of music. The idea that it is a singular language that aspires to exist eternally without restraint and beyond timelines of memory is incomprehensible. The poetry of this thought is a curios route for my pursuits in abstraction. In as much as most of my paintings aspire to visually graph sound, my video works are loud in its absence. How have you got inclined towards motion pictures and got in to making films? Towards the end of art school, I was in search to dislocate the figurative nature of my visual vocabulary. And then I discovered cinema. With effortless ease, the medium offered an interesting democracy of space in each frame. Around the same time i got my first Hi8 camera and began making a number of short films (mostly fifteen seconds to under two minutes each) – my painter’s sketchbook. Over the period, I discovered the sculpture of light, the visual application of poetry and a vast opportunity for complex installations. Would you like to talk about your migration and settling in the Middle East and any specific difference in the creative space of both the places? The world has changed in the last ten years or so- in all the chaos it offers the opportunity to be anywhere and yet maintain reasonable context. In this passage of time living between Dubai, Mumbai or elsewhere, the anthropocene lens for me has been busy and immersed in a diverse flow of currents which has only made more room for multiple voices and disciplines in my practice. Also, the spectacular timeline and complex nature of Indian cultural history as an influence on the contemporary art community mechanism is evident as compared to places with a younger ecosystem of visual art practice.