MF Husain (1915–2011) was India’s best known and most highly regarded modern artist. A flamboyant figure who rose to stardom from extremely humble origins, the barefoot artist became a national icon. As a Muslim artist who had freely painted Hindu icons for decades (often bare-breasted, like their classical depictions), Husain became the perfect target for the “culture wars” launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Hindu right wing (the Sangh Parivar).
Sahmat met the orchestrated attacks on Husain with a long and sustained defense. They took up Husain’s cause in many public forums presented by artists and scholars, and organised academic symposia to discuss the issues exposed by these attacks. Sahmat also led delegations to the president of India, the president of the Congress Party, and the home minister. The attacks were politically motivated and through Sahmat, the artists’ community expressed a vocal and visible solidarity in defense of the artist and his art.