Sculpting a History


An applied artist by training, Masood Hussain has explored diverse arts and mediums from painting to sculpting. With a penchant to innovate, Masood’s works have won many accolades besides adorning The country without a post office. Majid Maqbool reports.

“Such lonely work, done so bravely, and steeped in the community so beautifully and demandingly!” Kashmiri American poet Agha Shahid Ali said about the artworks of Masood Hussain.

Masood Hussain.

In 1997 when Shahid saw some photographs of Masood’s work, one of them made an ‘emotional claim’ on him. The work, “A peep out of the past” later made the title page of Shahid’s poetic collection, The country without a post office. Everyone seemed to agree that it was perhaps the ‘most beautiful looking volume of poems in years’, Shahid wrote later.

Made out of wood, paper pulp, Muslin, and oil colours Masood’s 1995 work shows a child looking out from an enclosed space barricaded with sculptured carving. It also includes Kashmir’s latticework.

Describing the art Shahid writes, “O yes there is the hint of helpless prayer also, for a rosary hangs from or is it on the latticework. Of course, the child is trapped, looking out at us and the world, waiting for the news of very destruction that is perhaps, paradoxically, visible to her (or him?). “

To me, writes Shahid, the child is Masood Hussain’s child of history, wearing many expressions at once –fear, longing, hope, curiosity, helplessness, resignation. “To see all these in a child’s face is to let the political become mystical; in fact, in Masood’s work, the political exits only by inhabiting the mystical.”

From his childhood, Masood Hussain dreamt of becoming an artist. In school, he was very good at drawing and showed an inclination towards painting. But his father, a leading physician of his time, opposed his interest in art.  “He never wanted me to be an artist,” says the soft-spoken silver-haired 55-year-old artist. “When I told my father that I want to go for further studies in art, he said no, that there is no future in it.”

Hussain’s work, having won accolades in and outside the state, is a poignant reference to a series of events he experienced over the past 20 years of strife in Kashmir. He still wants to explore more through his art. His two-storey house in Jawahar Nagar is aesthetically done; the walls adorned with paintings gifted to him by other artists over the years.

In his student days, he says, the atmosphere at his home was not conducive for art.  But he was adamant to take up art as his career. In 1968-69 Hussain joined the Institute of Music and Fine Arts in Srinagar. He would attend hobby classes that the institute had started. In 1971 he joined JJ School of Arts, Bombay (now Mumbai) for a course in graphic designing.

On his return in 1977, he joined the faculty of Jammu Art Institute.  After one year he came to Srinagar and joined the faculty at Applied Arts department of the Institute of Fine Arts. “Those days it was a newly established department. I was doing a lot of applied works and imparting training to the students as well,” he says.  Since then, he has been teaching in the same department which he now heads as well.

His father did not see him emerging as an artist. He died of brain haemorrhage soon after his return from Mumbai. “He never got to see my works,” Masood says in a regretful tone. “Till he was alive he never understood what I was doing.”

Afterwards, he launched an advertising agency, first of its kind in the valley that he had to wind up in ’90s because of the turmoil in the state. He also started working in different media, like block making. In the company of painters and sculptures at the institute, Masood developed an interest for painting and explored the medium as well.

Since then he has come a long way. His most vivid works portray the turmoil of Kashmir as he saw it in the past 20 years. Based in Kashmir in the years of turmoil, he painted Kashmir that went beyond the clich? of postcard beauty.  “I have covered a phase in the history of Kashmir as I was all along based here,” he says. As an artist, he says, he painted what he saw around him. “The work I have done is a documentation of a particular era.”

In an exhibition of his works in Delhi, Hussain recalls an eminent Indian artist of India, Manjeet Baba commenting. “Lot of artists went to Kashmir. They painted landscape, they painted flowers, mountains, rivers. But in his works, there are no flowers, rivers or colours, yet it portrays the true culture of Kashmir.”

Hussain has always craved for doing something unique. His style of working is unique, too. He chooses a particular topic or subject, researches on that, and sees different possibilities of creating an interesting work of art in a contemporary manner.  “I always want to do something which no one has done before,” he says.

Unlike most artists, Hussain shifted from painting on a canvas to work in a different dimension. “I mixed painting and sculpture together and used various objects in my work,” he says about his style of working in mixed media. “I explored the locally available material like we have a tradition of papier-machie. I used that in a very contemporary manner in my work.”

Hussain has also explored the tradition of latticework found in old houses. “I found that object very interesting,” he says. He tried to immortalize that dying craft by bringing it in his works.

There is a strong influence of shrines, and a mystic feel in Hussain’s works. He says he would often visit shrines to grasp the mystic feel inside. “I tried to capture that particular atmosphere inside the shrines and brought that in my works,” he says.

Travelling in the interiors of the city, sometimes, an image would catch his artistic imagination. And he would bring those little elements into his artworks. Aesthetically, he says, people enjoyed that in his works. “I would usually see in downtown someone sitting near an old window for hours together. I would take these elements, assemble them, link them and created a particular mood in my works.”

For example, he says, he took mystic experiences of Kashmir as a topic and worked on that for years. “It took me around 10 years to conceive the idea about the choice of suitable medium to work in,” he says. “I tried it on two dimensions like canvas but that feel wasn’t there.” He wanted to capture that particular mood, which required a third dimension. Then he worked in relief media—work in mixed medium. “I got actual lattice windows and ultimately I got what I wanted. I am still doing it and exploring this work more,” he says.

Instead of a simple canvas, Hussain used lattice window, metal, colours, canvas, paper pouch, and other things to create a work of art. In his works, he has used actual windows, like the one of his work which shows a girl peeping from inside a shrine window. “I create work of art from ideas I get from places,” he says. “I portray those mystic experiences in my works.”

Hussain says he has got more attention outside the state and country. “People here don’t know much about my works.”  He shows a number of copies of Indian magazines, even in-flight magazines, and art magazines that have profiled his works over the years. Recently a prestigious American art magazine, Prat Folio, profiled his works under the theme ‘art in times of war’, in which works of different artists working in conflict areas from all around the world were profiled. Masood’s work was chosen from Kashmir.

Most of his works have gone into various galleries outside the state. Some of his works are with J&K Bank, in Broadway hotel, and in Rajbhavan and also lying with some individuals. Different galleries in America and England are also in possession of his works. “I have only the documented photographs of my works. My original works are all gone. I can’t keep track of all the collectors,” he says.

In 2008 Masood Hussain created a special sculpture fountain for Badamwari Park renovated by J&K Bank. “It took me six months to create a 30-foot almond-shaped sculpture fountain in the shape of Allah,” he says. “It’s for the first time that I have done this kind of work that was kept at a public place.”  The Bank also gave him Budshah Award in recognition of his contribution at the inauguration of the park.

Recently the Srinagar Municipality asked him for artistic fountains at various other public places. The sculpture fountains designed by him adorn various public places like Munawarabad, Babadem, and Karan Nagar. He says more designs at parks and other public places are in the offing.

Presently he is designing a Mehjoor memorial at Athwajan. He has also given various other designs to the authorities, part of the beautification plan of the city, to build the heritage park, and proposed one design for Lal chowk. “We are educating people about environmental art and design, and how to aesthetically develop public places.”

Masood, however, says, art has been ignored by subsequent governments over the years.  For instance, he points out, the Music and Fine Arts College has been operating from a rented building for the past 40 years.

“It’s unfortunate that nobody bothers about these things,” he says. “There is no art gallery in Kashmir. In Jammu, they have an art centre known as Kala kendar. Now they are constructing one in Ladakh, why don’t we have one here?” he asks.

An artist makes a cultural link, he is quick to point out, and the government must encourage artists. “They are the people who build the society. An artist, a poet, a writer—they will always be there. The work of an artist is immortal.”


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