It may appear ironic that with one of the most prominent surnames in Indian art, Owais Husain always attempted to withhold it, but the artist feels that was essential to ensure it did not influence the perception of his work. If at the age of 11 he ran away from Sanawar boarding school in Kasauli to become a “hermit painter”, in college Owais told his batchmates that his father was a foreign services official posted on a mission in Poland. “I was a little ambiguous,” says Husain. At 47, the youngest son of MF Husain has made peace with his identity. “The prejudice is obvious and bound to happen,” says the Dubai-based artist, who recently flew to Modi Nagar for a workshop with students at the International Institute of Fine Arts. On his return, after the two-day workshop this week, he carried with him codes and images created by the students that will combine with his own work in the collaborative installation House of Cards. The work will probably be installed in India later this year. “It is part of a broader exercise to create a lexicon that outlines urban mythology, maps identities, one’s own predicament and influences,” says the artist.
The project is a take-off from his own, more than a decade old, acrylic Nobody is where he wanted to be where Owais had commented on rampant migration. “It draws from displacement, no one is really where they want to be, everyone grapples with issues of identity and origins,” adds Owais, who has previously held a similar workshop with students at Lasalle College of the Arts, Singapore. “The geographical locations are important, since I’m seeking displacement and shifting of cultures,” says Owais, drawing his own history and movement from Gujarat to Mumbai to Dubai, apart from his numerous travels. The theme has engaged him for years. If his 2006 solo at Aicon gallery, New York, “Forest of Lost Languages” explored “the boundaries of forgotten homelands and the wasteland of memories in between”, his recent solo in India, at Mumbai’s Tao art gallery, was divided into three distinct subshows of “The Heart”, “The Mind” and “The Spirit”, the biggest wars that rage between the heart and the mind. The public art festival, PUBLICA, to take place from January 23 to February 29, will see another acclaimed work of his at Delhi’s SelectCitywalk. Called Heart of Silence, it will have three paper houses filled with light and suspended upside down from the ceiling, reflected in a pool of water beneath it. Upon them he will write his own poetry, words of introspection.
Unlike his father, Owais is not too prolific but he straddles various mediums — from music to filmmaking and poetry — all of which dwell into his art. “The end goal is to create a painting,” says the Sir JJ School of Art graduate. He credits his teacher Prabhakar Kolte for providing him with a vision that has guided him. “He helped develop the right attitude for me to embark on my own journey,” says Owais. And though he recalls picking a paintbrush at the age of three and early lessons with his father, it was much later that he decided to pursue art. “I wanted to do theatre at one point,” recalls the artist, who is currently composing an opera.
Though Owais has previously admitted that he and MF Husain often had differing views, they collaborated on two films Gaja Gamini and Meenaxi, A Tale of Three Cities. Five years after the veteran artist’s demise, Owais and his sister Raisa are also working on an estate for his work. “The foundation will also hold intellectual property rights for his work,” says Owais. Meanwhile, a documentary dedicated to his father, titled Letters to My Son about My Father, is also in the making.