Obituary: Veteran Artist Mohammad Yasin (1928-2020)

By Aseem Asha Usman

“laa.ī hayāt aae qazā le chalī chale
apnī ḳhushī na aae na apnī ḳhushī chale” – Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq
(I came as life had brought me, as death takes me, I go.
I came not of my own accord / nor of my own I go.)

This was one of the customary couplets that Yasin Sahab loved to recite whenever I visited him. It seems that he was always ready for his heavenly abode and wanted to cheer his remaining life with enthusiasm.

Mohammad Yasin passed away peacefully at the age of 92 on August 19, 2020 at his residence in Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi. He was born on January 4, 1928 at Mugalgidda village, Hyderabad (modern Telangana). Under the aegis of Aseem Asha Foundation, I understood him while making an hour-long documentary film on his work and life in association with Dagar Family, i.e. Pictorial Calligrapher Qamar Dagar, Dhrupad Singer Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, etc. Later I did consociate with him.

He was a versatile person – calligrapher and print maker. He pioneered the technique of Lithography at the Department of Graphics (Print Making), Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. It was a great experience meeting veteran artist Mohd. Yasin for the first time. This was my first full length documentary on Art & Artist which I enjoyed making a lot. I learnt many new things at each and every step that enriched me to understand the variety, depth, and details of his work. I took Yasin ji’s interviews in many schedules. Every time I heard a new and very interesting story from him. He is a great storyteller himself. His stories are detailed and very informative, a learning experience for everyone. I learnt from him a sense of perfection, purity, innocence, humanity, selflessness and foremost devotion for the arts. This film was appreciated and screened at various places such as The Attic, Delhi, India International Center (IIC), Delhi, Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur, etc.

He painted till his last breath. The integration of OM and Allah in his paintings was mesmerizing. Throughout his life, he conveyed the message of Peace and Harmony that are in line with the principles of Aseem Asha Foundation as well. He was a poetry enthusiast too, and used to recite Urdu couplets while sharing anecdotes with an amused face. In 2017, Aseem Asha Foundation was honored to confer a life time achievement award on him at IC’s Hotel, Okhla.

He was also selected for several important scholarship and fellowship programs.
During his scholarship at East-West center, Honolulu, Hawaii, he studied at the Department of Art, University of Hawaii and at Pratt Graphic Art center, New York.

So Far Yasin has had 37 solo exhibitions including one in Paris in 1991, one titled, “A decade in Retrospect 1974-84” was held at the Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi in 1984, another one titled, “Retrospective of Paintings, Drawings and Graphics” spanning 1958-2005 was held at Castelo Branco, Portugal in 2005.

The remarkable work of Yasin Sahab has inspired many students of Aseem Asha Foundation to take apprenticeship in arts and now they are doing extraordinary work in this field. To commemorate his work, we renamed our project as “M Yasin Community Visual Art Project”. He is not with us physically but spiritually his soul will always remain with us and bless every work that we do.

He would invite me on each birthday since 2013 and I was the only outsider in his birthday celebrations. He was loquacious with me when I used to visit with my students; he used to give the students his blessing as well and hold conversations very affectionately. He always advised us to make art as a part of our life in order to become a good person. Art connoisseur Laurence Bastit who deceased recently played a very significant role in promoting him as a painter at the national and international level.

I still remember an incident when he got the news from All India Fine Arts and Crafts Society (AIFACS), New Delhi, about his life time achievement awards and honorarium of rupees one lac with a commemoratory lunch. He called and invited me first. I hurried to his home (we were in euphoria) and selected the attire for his awarding ceremony such as sherwaani, topi, jootis, etc. His face was as bright as that of an innocent child. Unfortunately, it could not be conferred upon him in person due to lockdown.

I feel a persona like Mohd. Yasin doesn’t require any award or honor. He awarded his life to us, to the younger generation. He himself faced a lot of physical, financial and mental challenges throughout his life. He was also affected with tuberculosis and paresis but never compromised with the quality of his work. He was never bothered about any acknowledgement though his work should have got a great recognition from the government. Later in his life he taught at Delhi College of Art and Faculty of Fine Arts, Jamia Millia Islamia. His works are in permanent collections of galleries, Art Institutions, museums and in private and individual collections in India and abroad.

I cannot forget the cherished moment with him specifically attending his birthdays, art exhibitions, award ceremonies and personal meetings. His legacy will be a great source of inspiration for the contemporary world and to the future generations.

Grieving upon his sad demise, I pay my humble homage to Yasin Sahab. May his soul rest in peace and be bestowed with highest place in Jannah. Ameen.

Aseem Asha Usman, Founding Director, Aseem Asha Foundation, New Delhi.


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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.

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