The quest for unraveling the illusive mystique of ‘faith’ has been attempted by many, in ways that have often bordered on the bizarre. Fawzan Husain’s photographic odyssey seeks to convey how the “appetite for the divine,” to quote Lucien Febvre, leads humankind to blind, irrational and frenzied excesses. Ironically, it is this very fanaticism of ‘faith’ that allows people, in spite of themselves, to transcend the exclusive strictures of religious allegiance that otherwise bind them.
Husain’s photographs draw a subtle yet pointed difference between faith that knows no religion and religion that is centered around an entire belief-system, which a complex mesh of rituals sustain and nourish. Although the divine plays a crucial role in the nurturing of this system, Husain’s lens is trained more specifically on other objects--both animate and inanimate--that command faith of a kind that even Gods find difficult to evoke.
In this schema, Godmen jostle for space with actors playing Gods; statues of holy cows are revered as much as that of Nandi (the bull-escort of Lord Shiva); and the “faithful” remain unfazed while rolling on a pool of coloured water or being faced with death under a hysterical stampede. Husain’s colour palette, dominated by solids like red, saffron, chrome, or pristine white, serves as an instantaneous evocation of a myriad faiths. Although the images themselves are not startlingly new in content-- India having become something of a convenient haven for hackneyed postcard-like depictions of its faiths and the faithful, Husain’s friezes are laced with the warmth of an insider. True to his stated mission, the artist never reduces his subjects or even their seemingly risible “faith” to condescending ridicule. Instead, he invokes a sense of profound sympathy for a mass who, as author and renowned journalist Mark Tully once observed, have nothing in their material lives to fill the vacuum left by the suspension of belief.
-- Paroma Maiti
(Images, from top to bottom: Devotees rushing the Khandoba ‘palkhi’ in a frenzied state, A young Lama entering a Buddhist Temple in Leh. All Images courtesy of the artist and Seagull Arts and Media Resources.)