Pragmatism and Steel: For Monica

by Karin Zitzewitz, Michigan State University

I “met” Monica, first, as the author of “Reclaiming the Public Sphere: Husain’s Portrayals of Saraswati and Draupadi,” a compact and astute art historical commentary on the accusations of obscenity that were lodged by Hindu nationalist agitators against Indian artist M. F. Husain, beginning in 1996.[i] A graduate student in anthropology, I was interested in visual culture as public culture—as a site of debate and contestation, and of complex and layered signs—and in Hindu nationalism. By the time I got to them around 3-4 years later, the attacks on Husain were a kind of classic of the Hindutva genre. They had been preceded by several similar, if less spectacular campaigns and followed by a constant stream of what we can anachronistically recognize as culture-war clickbait. Husain was a nearly perfect target: he was wealthy but approachable, a prominent supporter of the Congress party, and among the most famous Muslim public figures outside of Bollywood. Whether the nature of his artistic work was one of the attractions for the Hindutvavadis—followers of the ideology that underpins Hindu nationalism—was cause for significant debate. And it was that conversation in which Monica’s piece intervened. Continue reading “Pragmatism and Steel: For Monica”