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Aesthetics, Ethics and Politics in Muslim South Asia: the Saga of M.F. Husain as a Muslim Cosmopolitan

Presentation by
Bruce B. Lawrence

Duke University

Umran Green Perspective Foundation
Jaynagar, Bihar
7July 2020 

On July 7th 2020, the respected and well-known Professor Bruce B. Lawrence was the guest of honor at Umran. The topic he presented was “The World is My Canvas – Aesthetics, Ethics and Politics in Muslim South Asia: the Saga of M.F Husain as a Muslim Cosmopolitan.”

The first part of the meeting started with a brief introduction of on the vision of Umran, the story of its foundation and also the numerous projects that the managing team are developing and implementing together with volunteers by UMRAN founder, Rajeev Kumar. After the introduction, the host then proceeded to introduce Professor Lawrence to the attendees who joined the meeting.

Professor Lawrence then proceeded to give a short overview about the biography of MF Husain and the ethical issues raised by him in his art. Along with this he also talked about the personal meeting experiences he had with the renowned painter. The concept of Muslim cosmopolitanism was discussed as being an allusion to the Qur’anic concept barzakh which is known as the in-between state. The discussion continued with a historical overview of Hindustan and the Maghrib of the 11th and 12th centuries. The professor talked about civilization and cosmpolitanism, weaving together the history and art, talking about the British Empire, Europe and Middle East. He then outlined the many countries and cultures MF Husain visited and how this exposure to multiple cultures affected his art style. He further explored the concept of in-betweenness in MF Husain’s art by noting how MF Husain was not simply a Muslim but also an Indian with a remote Arab lineage who identified with the country of his birth and also embodied the fluid-boundary logic, i.e. the in-betweenness of Muslim cosmopolitanism in a new era. As a final thought, Professor Lawrence concluded by saying that Muslim cosmopolitanism remained an ideal more than a reality. Despite this, its existence, and persistence, was worthy of attention from the recent as well as the distant past, not only in the Middle East but also in other in-between places, especially South Asia.

In the third and final part of the meeting, students had the opportunity to communicate freely and ask questions directly to the professor. It was hearty to note that the eager students asked a lot of questions and that discussion generated such interest that the meeting lasted for about 90 minutes instead of the planned 60 minutes.

Many messages and emails of congratulations were received by the team at UMRAN as students felt blessed and happy to be present in this meeting and be able to listen to the lecture and communicate with a distinguished academic such as Professor Bruce B. Lawrence.

-Amra Mlloja, İHU


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