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Keeping the proud legacy of his celebrated father alive
Owais Husain perhaps has the most illustrious surname among the present generation of Indian artists. MF Husain, his late father, remains our most popular, most established and the most celebrated modern painter. Having identity as the maestro's son has been a matter of pride, on one hand, and a burden of expectations to carry, on other hand; the proud son has done so with élan.

He is taking the legacy of his father ahead by walking into his footsteps and carving a niche for himself as a multimedia artist of immense talent and skill. He has built a reputation of his own. When his illustrious father lived in self-imposed exile in 2006 away from his beloved homeland, Owais Husain began getting closer to him emotionally. Their tender bond received a fresh lease of affection in the face of adversity. In January 2010, the artist-in-exile opted to become a citizen of Qatar. His son had then remarked: "Giving up citizenship of India saddens my father. But they say that you can take a man out of the country but you cannot take the country out of him." The hurt and pain remained until the very end, but there was no bitterness.

Owais Husain did his first oil on canvas at three, and joined a theatre group in school by the age of nine. The multi-faceted artist has explored diverse mediums like painting, photography, sculpture, documentaries, films, poetry and music. Apart from a book of poetry and images, he has composed and choreographed an experimental opera for an installation in Doha and Qatar. Mostly figurative, his work dwells on those transfixed moments between ubiquitous people and peculiar situations. His assured brush strokes create thickly delineated forms in constant movements.

His recent body of concept and multimedia works that blended art, music and poetry were presented at Mumbai-based Tao Art Gallery last year. The series, entitled ‘3 Worlds’, received critical acclaim. For it, he explored different levels of existence divided into three segment; namely Heart, Mind and Spirit, which implied that each of us was essentially a storyteller. The motifs and the iconography in his paintings and charcoal drawings on paper suggested that the heart never really belonged to one. The installations of three life-size Siberian tigers’ replicas, limestone rocks from the Syrian deserts and acrylic sheets signified the fragility of life and the living beings. A unique multimedia blend comprised beds in the centre each carrying a pillow book of poetry, symbolizing the seven stages of love.

This was his first solo in Mumbai after a gap of almost 10 years. Renowned galleriest Dadiba Pundole had mentioned: "He does not carry the baggage of being an illustrated father's son.” He knows better as the Pundole had showcased many of his father’s works. Comparing the two, the expert noted: “He (Owais) has a different approach to painting. It’ more intense in a sense, and tends to be autobiographical in nature. This makes it difficult to get into the work to some degree. However, the element of the narrative is strong."Owais Husain's show is entitled ‘Three Worlds’.

Describing how ‘the exiled artist's son is staying true to his name, an AFP report stated: “In a room in the basement of the gallery, the walls are scrawled with messages. In the centre, two beds are covered with balls of red wool, as music -- also his own composition -- floats through loud speakers. The influence of his father can be seen, as he admits to being ‘fascinated by the imagery of the (human) figure’. The 94-year-old, once described as "the pioneer of post-Independence Indian modern art", gave up his Indian citizenship earlier this year. Owais Husain seems reluctant to talk about his father, saying only that he advised him against embarking on a career as a painter.” In fact, the low-profile son of a legendary artist, he mostly divides his creative time between Dubai and Mumbai. Born in 1967 in Mumbai, he studied at Lawrence School in Sanawar, Simla Hills, later seeking artistic pursuits like painting, drawing, textile printing, dyeing, photography and lithography. The artist went on to join the Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai. After completing his graduation (Painting) from Sir J.J School of Arts, Mumbai in 1990, he was in New York for a year and later set up a studio at the Kanoria Centre for Arts, Ahmedabad. Apart from '3 Worlds, his other selected solos are ‘Forest of Lost Languages: Return of the Native’, Gallery Arts India, New York (2006); ‘How we are living these days’, Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi (2000); ‘The Present is the Source of Presences’, Vadehra, Delhi (1998); ‘The Present is the Source of Presences’, Sakshi Art Gallery, Mumbai (1997); ‘Recent Works’, Sakshi, Mumbai (1995).

His significant group exhibitions are 'Keep Drawing', Gallery Espace, Delhi (2008); ‘Contemporary Indian Arts Today’, courtesy Vadehra at Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai (1999); ‘Legatee’, Sir J.J alumni show, Fine Art Company, Mumbai (1999); ‘Generations’, A Gallery, New York (1998); ‘Wilber ding Collection’, NGMA, Mumbai (1998); ‘Indian Art Post Independence’ courtesy Vadehra, NGMA, Delhi (1997); ‘Four Young Contemporaries’, Cymroza and Sakshi, Mumbai (1993). He had a joint exhibitions, entitled 'Between 2 Lines', with his father at Indian Embassy, Muscat (2011). The event was of immense significance as it was the first and the only exhibition they had together. It marked a beautiful confluence of different times and eras.

Expressing his sentiments, the son had said: “This is a great honor for me since this is the first time ever I share the same platform with my father as a painter. We’ve never worked together except on a film. In that sense, this indeed is an historic event. It has been a challenging experience working in close proximity with him”.

Now that his father is no more, Owais Husain is striving to keep his great legacy alive, in relevance to the present times and the future with a feature film on his life. Another documentary, titled ‘Letters To My Son About My Father; by him encapsulates their creative journeys simultaneously. To pay a tribute to his celebrated father – a great painter and an even greater human being - he is contemplating an apt biopic on his father's colorful and fulfilling life.