Husain’s Raj forefronts the ludic quality in the work of Maqbool Fida Husain, postcolonial India’s most iconic modernist and also arguably its most playful.The book focuses on a series of paintings in which the artist offers a postcolonial visual commentary on the erstwhile colonial world in which he had been born and raised. These works are densely packed with objects and people (British and native, high and low, male and female) and some animals as well, brought together in narrative action that revealthe anxieties and absurdities of imperial rule in India.
Husain came of age in the waning days of British colonial rule and was witness to the rising tide of Indian nationalism. Instead of providing grim portraits of what it meant to grow up in such a context, he presents playful vignettes of the Raj to a new generation of viewers—many of whom would not have experienced colonial rule directly—showing us how it is possible, even necessary, to laugh while looking back at a painful and traumatic past.
Sumathi Ramaswamy is Professor of History at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, USA. Over the course of her academic career, she has published extensively in the fields of language politics, gender studies, spatial studies and the history of cartography, visual studies and the modern history of Indian art. She is a contributor to the Marg books, India’s Popular Culture: Iconic Spaces and Fluid Images and Art and Visual Culture in India. She is the recipient of numerous honours and awards, including from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation in the USA and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany.