Painting a gritty picture

- May 9, 2023
| By : Mohd Shehwaaz Khan |

Niyaz Hussain, a Delhi-based artist who was afflicted by polio in childhood, has faced many obstacles to create a platform for those who come from various marginalised backgrounds

THE ART: Children and volunteers showcasing their artwork

Niyaz Hussain, a Delhi-based artist, did not have an easy life. Yet, he did not let his passion for painting wear off. After school, when Hussain did not have enough money to enrol himself in a college, he would do many odd jobs — from selling vegetables to tailoring. 

However, even in such circumstances, he drew and learnt everything that he would in college in the future. So much so that when he was selling vegetables in Okhla Sabzi Mandi, he would study and draw sketches of labourers and workers there. 

“I would wake up early in the morning, almost at four, and sell vegetables till 10 am. I would send this money to my mother to support my family. Then I would sell some more vegetables in the evening to buy art supplies for myself. Evening was also the time when I sketched labourers and workers present in the mandi or nearby railway station” the 29-year-old recalled.

Hussain came to Delhi from a small town, Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh, at the age of two. He suffered from polio and his parents had come to look for treatment in the city. His father, who works as a tailor, and mother, who is a housewife, stayed in the slum area of Srinivaspuri and this is where Hussain lived most of his life. 

“Disabled people have to face hopelessness almost every day. This is when they need emotional strength to build themselves up. This was the time when my parents, especially my mother, did not give up on me. I had become a recluse and my relatives would taunt me. However, over the years, I built up confidence and it was only possible because of my mother. She did not give up on me even when others did,” he said.

HOPE: Niyaz Hussain posing with slum children

Hussain has created a buzz in the city’s artistic circles, encouraging those who come from marginalised communities and specially-abled people to pursue their dreams. For this, he started Maqaam Foundation in 2022, where he teaches slum children multiple life skills to equip them for the future.

“I want to give these children an equal platform. A space where their disability, caste, class, or sexual identity does not matter. I just care about the potential they have and I want to nurture it so that they can see beyond their own social positions, which becomes quite difficult at times,” he said. 

The foundation holds several workshops in multiple slum areas of Delhi. In his first exhibition at Arpana Art Gallery in 2022, there were 35 artists from different backgrounds. 

“Senior artists and national awardees also participated in the exhibition. The reason I invited them was because many times, junior artists do not get a platform to exhibit their art with senior artists. I wanted to fill that gap. As many artists came from marginalised communities, it gave them a sense of confidence,” he said. 

Hussain thanks his volunteers for their support and motivation to keep the project happening. 

Currently, Maqaam Foundation works for 250 children from Noor Nagar, Srinivaspuri, Jamia Nagar among other areas. The foundation also supports these children’s parents to make them financially strong in order to support their children’s education.

Hussain sees himself in the children he works for. He told Patriot that he did not have any friends during childhood and would often spend time alone. 

“I believe this happened also because of my disability. I started school very late, at the age of 12, and I did not fit in because I was constantly reminded of my disability, in ways nobody would even realise. You know, this childhood loneliness seeped into adulthood and I faced challenges in college as well. Even now, I do not have many friends,” he shared. 

“I was also very disappointed with the society. People either taunted me or looked at me with sympathy,” he said. 

FIGHTING ODDS: Maqaam Foundation, started by Niyaz Hussain, wants to empower slum children

“Whenever someone is disabled, the society will just focus on their disability. Suppose if a disabled person has a paintbrush in his hands, the society will first look at his disability rather than the brush, as if his disability is his identity [and not him being an artist].”

He studied in the fine arts department at Jamia Millia Islamia. In college, similar hardships followed. Lack of financial support at under-graduate level worsened the situation. However, Hussain continued, taking inspiration from Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh and Spanish painter Salvador Dali.

“These two artists are a part of my journey. Especially Van Gogh and the kind of troubled life he lived. I know I am not as great as these artists, but I could relate to them and this kept me motivated and inspired me to continue,” he said.