His Excellency Sheikh Hassan Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al Thani, Advisor of Cultural Affairs, Qatar Foundation
Twenty years ago, I was invited to an Indian restaurant in Dubai, while I was with a friend. He drew my attention to the presence of Indian artist Maqbool Fida Husain. “Isn’t that Maqbool Husain?” I asked. “Certainly,” my friend said. I wanted to greet him, but I did not want to interrupt him while he was sitting with his guests.
Five years later, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser commissioned me to invite him to come to Doha as a resident artist. I did so, and he gratefully accepted the invitation. Upon reaching Qatar, he met with Her Highness Sheikha Moza, and, with her encouragement and support, he proceeded to plan for a huge art project inspired by Qatar’s heritage – the Seero fi al Ardh. It would be an art installation that represents the Islamic civilization.
It was obvious that his rich and varied experiences afforded him quite a few memories to cherish and share. Plus, he had a philosophical perspective of life.
Right from the outset, Her Highness Sheikha Moza asked QF to give him all the support he needed to achieve his dream. Additionally, Qatar Foundation brought some of his artwork from India, at his request. This was because he was afraid that it would be sold or burned when he passed away, if he left it in India.
During his stay in Doha, I met him on occasion, and we had conversations on art and other topics. It was obvious that his rich and varied experiences afforded him quite a few memories to cherish and share. Plus, he had a philosophical perspective of life.
There is one particular encounter with Maqbool that I will never forget. He was visiting me in my office when he said: “I feel that I am late”. "Why?" I asked him. "I have been working on a movie for more than two years, and I am afraid that I will die before it is finished," he answered.
This was the first time that he mentioned death in front of me. He was in good health, and so I asked him: “Why are you saying this? Are you not feeling well? You look great.”
“I am very tired, and I have a strange feeling that my life is coming to an end,” he said.
He asked me to carry out this project if he was unable to finish it, because he was worried, he might pass away before it was completed. "Two years is too long for me,” he said, “and I do not think I will survive until then.”
One day, he visited me with a gift: a painting of a horse with his initials in blue. "I made this painting for you yesterday because I have completed 100 years,” Maqbool told me. He did not used to sign his paintings, and when I asked him to do so, he wrote on the back of it: "Today, I am 100 hijri years old”.
Exactly one month later, I was outside Qatar when I received a call from one of his friends, who told me that Maqbool was not feeling well. A week later, I was told that my friend had passed away.
At that moment, I remembered when he came to my office four months earlier with a feeling that his life was coming to an end. On that day, he had talked about his life, and the painful experiences he had endured.
I did not realize that Maqbool was recalling memories and events he had never forgotten, and his journey all over the world - just like his Seero fi al Ardh project.
He was talking and talking, as if he wanted to let out all the sorrows he had kept over the years. At that time, I did not realize that Maqbool was recalling memories and events he had never forgotten, and his journey all over the world - just like his Seero fi al Ardh project, which embodies the story of his travels and his constant search for the meaning of life. Perhaps, when he was telling me about his life, he wanted to say goodbye to me without making me sad.
I was pleased to know this artist closely, and it was wonderful to collaborate with him - along with the support and encouragement provided by Her Highness Sheikha Moza – to achieve his dream project, Seero fi al Ardh. This is now completed after this great artist passed away, and will be one of the enduring symbols of modern art in the Middle East.