Remembering M. F. Hussain

Remembering M. F. Hussain

M. F. Husain (17 September 1915 – 9 June 2011), was a renowned Indian artist. He was also known as Maqbool Fida Husain one of the most revered artists of the 20th Century. Though his credibility in the field of art, movie making is rarely unknown to any, he spends some of his time as a parliamentarian. He was a member of the upper house from 12 May 1986 – 11 May 1992. His biography written by Akhilesh “Maqbool” is the most appreciated book published by Rajkamal Prakashan New Delhi.

Early life

He was born on 17 September 1915 in Pandharpur, Maharashtra. His primary education was initiated in a Madrasa. Art and painting were the core of him from his childhood. While studying in a Madrasa in Baroda, he learned calligraphy. He learnt the art by practising on his own. While growing up in Indore, he was fascinated by two large portraits of Maharaja Yashwantrao Holkar and his wife, made by the French painter Brancusi. He would look at them animatedly for hours and dream to make better than that.

Early in his career, merely at an age of 15, Husain painted cinema posters in Mumbai. To earn additional income, he worked for a toy company designing and building toys. He often travelled to Gujarat to paint landscapes whenever he could afford to travel.

Path in Art

He was one of the founding members of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group.  In 1947, Husain won a prize at the annual Bombay Art Society exhibition. The same year Francis Newton Souza invited him to join the Progressive Artists’ Group. The aim of this group was to break from the shackles of the more traditional styles of painting predominant in the pre-Independence era. The group — whose founding members were Souza, Husain, Syed Haider Raza, Krishna Hawlaji Ara, Hari Amba Das Gade and S. Bakre — largely succeeded in its mission, giving new energy and purpose to Indian art.

Husain’s first solo art exhibition was in 1952 in Zürich. His first U.S. exhibit was at India House in New York City in 1964.  Husain was a special invitee along with Pablo Picasso at the São Paulo Biennial, Brazil in 1971. In 1967, he received the National Film Award for Best Experimental Film for Through the Eyes of a Painter. In 2004, he directed Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities, a film he worked on with his artist son Owais Husain, which was screened in the Marché du film section of the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.

Despite numerous accolades and recognition around the globe, his life in India was surrounded by numerous controversies.

Countless Controversies

Husain’s later works have stirred numerous controversies, which included nude portrayals of Hindu deities, and a nude portrayal of Bharat Mata. Right-wing organizations made numerous protests and called for his arrest, and several lawsuits were filed against him for hurting religious sentiments.  In response, eight criminal complaints were filed against Husain.

In 2004, Delhi High Court dismissed these complaints of “promoting enmity between different groups … by painting Hindu goddesses – Durga and Saraswati, that was later compromised by Hindus.” In 1998 Husain’s house was attacked by Hindu groups like Bajrang Dal and artworks were vandalised. Protests against Husain also led to the closure of an exhibition in London, England. The artist left the country stating that “matters are so legally complicated that I have been advised not to return home”. He used to live in London and Dubai.

He remained in a self-imposed exile from 2006 until his death in 2011, accepting Qatari citizenship in 2008.

OV Digital Desk