The Identity of the Artist: Owais Husain
Owais Husain is an artist and storyteller. Although he is mostly based in Dubai, a running theme in his work has always been the nuances of the roots of identity. Shaped by a strong Indian identity that has been affected by the time he has spent in the UAE it is interesting to watch the dialogue between where an artist lives and where an artist comes from, throughout Owais' work
Owais is the son of the late modern Indian painter of international acclaim, M F Husian, who was a founding member of The Progressive Artists Group of Bombay. And although his father was associated with Indian modernism in the 1940s, Owais on the other hand is harder to place. Not only is his practice more expansive in terms of mediums but Owais is working in a space where the shape of his own identity is not as clear in the traditional sense.
Using a range of different mediums to explore this rich theme of identity, from photography and film, painting and sculpture, installation and poetry, Owais' power in visual story telling is staggering. From his careful, detailed and free technique of paint on paper, to his mammoth installations that conjure dream like images and a sense of hushed awe, his work is textured, and constantly exploring, questioning that shifting idea of the self.
City Times spoke with Owais about his process and the themes he explores while living in a place as diverse as Dubai, contemporary art making and other elements of his aesthetic.
How has your Indian identity changed after spending a lot of time away from India?
From the very beginning, it became imperative for me to seek and identify my place in the larger map of contemporary art making practice and language. There was this earnest need to seek the truth within my process of selection (of visual iconography) and its application. Questions of national and cultural boundaries, with regards to image making, had to be addressed through an objective lens.
Therefore, a 'curated' restlessness was an obvious outcome of this realisation and only went to help placing myself and practice in diverse contexts. I began travelling in pursuit of understanding light and its heterogeneous nature- a pursuit that later nurtured the desire to immerse myself in the tactile and the unfamiliar.
How much of you living in the UAE has informed your identity and your work?
As an accidental student of anthropology, UAE offers an invaluable lens to observe the pace and appetite of man's desire to innovate in pursuit of opportunity at multiple levels. Its strategic position as a hub and a cross road to enormous global traffic places great opportunities for exposure and interaction.
Would you be exploring different issues had you been living in India?
Aesthetic is not a fickle agency to shift easily via sheer physical displacement. However, distance also provides a certain objective perspective to the shifts in the current domestic narrative unfolding in a complex and modern India.
How has living in the UAE affected your work both in content and in process?
Over time, my studio and art making practice have developed to be versatile and adaptable. Unlike fifteen years ago, it does not matter where you are or what constitutes your workspace. Everything is fluid now as you cut through the air of continuous displacement and migration. There is a silent resilience in the traffic that has come to constitute the fabric of Dubai and that inevitably finds its way into my work. Migration and diasporas in flux have been a consistent thread in my work. The first hand experience of this phenomenon in the UAE is indeed an interesting ingredient for my readings.
What, to you, are the stark differences and similarities when it comes to living in the UAE and India?
The physical proximity of the two regions has, over time, created several deep cultural overlaps, especially in the past forty-five years of the UAE's rapid growth as a state. Growing up in Mumbai you come to understand it as a land of opportunity to the migrating work-force from other parts of the country. This culture of fluxus in population is mirrored in the UAE. Both offer a home to the displaced. Modern India is on a turbulent trajectory, with not only the world but also itself; in as much as UAE, in its positive efforts and initiatives to pace itself within a challenging ecosystem of global uncertainty.
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