Click on photos to enlarge.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

M. F. Husain

Horses, M.F. Husain, one of the artist's favorite subjects.                   

M.F. Husain Self-portrait, ca. 2009

One of the benefits in writing daily about art is the fact that it is such a great learning experience. I come upon important artists which I've never heard of. I dig into their background, their art, even the historic period in which they live and I come up with a new, or sharper perspective of their style, their content, their philosophy, or perhaps simply art itself in the broadest sense. Today I came upon a very important Hindu artist from India named M.F. Husain. (I've had to avoid using "Indian artist" inasmuch as that leads off into a whole different direction, especially for Americans.) My point is, as I started looking at his work and exploring his life and times, I found I knew virtually nothing about Hindu art and barely more than that about the art of India.
Gopala, 1972, M.F. Husain
Maqbool Fida Husain was born in 1915, into a Muslim family in India. Mostly self-taught, Husain began his art career painting cinema posters in Mumbai. Later he worked designing toys for a toy company while all the time traveling about painting landscapes. Husain first became known as a painter in Bombay during the 1940s. He joined with a group of Modernist artist wishing to break with the nationalist traditions of the Bengal School of Art. His first solo exhibit was in 1952 in Zurich. Husain's first U.S exhibit was at India House in New York in 1964.
Bewildered Brown, 2006, M.F. Husain
Then, in 1967, finding paint and palette too limiting, M.F. Husain turned to film, releasing his first effort, Through the Eyes of a Painter that year at the Berlin Film Festival. He won a Golden Bear Award in the short film category. In 1971, Husain was invited to sit next to his aging idol, Pablo Picasso at the Sao Paulo Biennial in Brazil. Even a cursory look at Husain's work would indicate there's a lot of Picasso resting within him. A critic has referred to him as "the Picasso of India."
Kirishna Lila, 1980s, M.F. Husain
Raised a Muslim in a mostly Hindu country, Husain treated the many gods and goddesses of that faith as inspirations, though not as traditionalist might have liked. He often painted them nude and even in sexually suggestive poses. Needless to say, these works, created as early as the 1970s, but not shown until the mid-1990s stirred controversy. A Hindi magazine, Vichar Mimansa, published them in an article headlined "M.F. Husain: A Painter or Butcher." Husain's house was attacked by Hindu groups and art works were vandalised. Twenty-six Hindu activists were arrested by the police. Protests against Husain also led to the closure of an exhibition as far away as London, England.
Gaja Gamini, M.F. Husain
Later, eight criminal charges were filed against Husain in India for "promoting enmity between different groups." All were dismissed. Perhaps deciding film making was a safer and more profitable enterprise, Husain went on to direct so-called "Bollywood" films such as Gaja Gamini, a tribute to Madhuri's contribution to Hindi cinema, and a musical, Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities, the latter of which made the Muslims mad (for various and sundry reason). Husain was forced to pull it from distribution, though he claimed there was no intention to offend anyone. The film was loved by the critics and went on to win several awards.

Meenmaxi: Tale of 3 Cities, 2004, M.F. Husain
After more arrest warrents, a reward of $11.5 million placed on his head, and hounded by death threats, in 2006, Husain gave up his Indian passport and became a Quatari citizen, living there in self-imposed exile until his death in 2011. After his death at the age of ninety-five, a former president of India referred to him as having "left a void in the world of art." A fellow painter, Akbar Padamsee, noted, "[It was] a pity that a painter as important as Husain had to die outside his own country because of a crowd of miscreants."

Autobiography, 1996, M.F. Husain



  1. Thanks for an informative article. Not sure if Husain can be called a Hindu artist, especially in view of the controversies later on. 'Hindu' has become quite an explosive term and is used by the fanatic right wingers in India in various religious contexts. Probably 'artist from India' would be the most clear option.

  2. Raj--
    Thank you for your input. I'm sorry to say I'm not all that astute when it comes to the art, much less the politics of India. Moreover, Muslim figural art is likewise not my strong suit so I find it difficult to differentiate one from the other.