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Godfather of contemporary art of India, stalwart of the history of South Asian art – Maqbool Fida Husain


The name of MF Husain is not unfamiliar to the world; He is remembered as the modernist contemporary artist of India. Born on 17th September 1915 in Pandharpur, India, Maqbool Fida Husain was a prolific and eminent modernist artist, writer, poet and a film maker. At the times when Bengal’s traditional style of painting were practiced by most of the artists and infusing European style was prohibited, Husain brought revolution in whole Indian art by adopting cubist style so the world knows the modern techniques of Indian art. He transformed the traditional style of painting into modern and unique ways that brought him prominence and triumph. He was known as ‘Pablo Picasso of India’.



Eye for art took pride to exhibit MF Husain at one of the biggest art festivals of the world, Art Dubai in its 14th edition of 2020. Eye for Art USA feels immense proud having the art works of MF Husain in their private collection. Ali Haider, the Director of Eye for Art, felt to make the most of a great opportunity to utilize Art Dubai as a platform to have a cultural dialog and let art meet various borders. MF Husain spent the last few years of his life in the Middle East country – Qatar, Doha which linked him to the admirers residing in Middle Eastern countries. It was also a pleasure for Art Dubai to have his work exhibited at the fair.



The exhibition held at Hall 02 Booth M9. The art works were comprised of various mediums; inks on paper, oil on canvas and mixed media. Eye for Art chose to bring the exciting works from 60s and 80s to the spotlight.



Husain was not just a name but a story with various colorful and dark chapters that he shared with the world through his art. The glimpses of humor and talent of storytelling could be observed in the works he has produced through his career. He used to speak to the viewers through his artwork. In the series showcased at the exhibition is a culmination of various themes Husain had painted until his death. He enjoyed deliberately making his paintings undecipherable as he believed that his paintings do not fall in the category of ‘wall decoration works’ but more thought provoking and disturbing. The balance of lines is ultra-fine and the textures and composition would stimulate senses yet symbols used in his work challenge a viewer.



The unmistakable ink drawings are a portrayal of his mind and fascinations. Husain claimed that he could make thousands of canvases on any one subject; let it be a stone. Thus in a search of his mother he made hundreds of faceless females and maternal figures. His works mirrored those sentiments for his mother and solitude that he experienced till his last breath yet he was incomplete from the inside.



His penchant for horses started when he began doodling in an early age. In one of his paintings he painted himself as a young boy who is doodling a horse. He adored and enjoyed painting the free spirit and strength of horses.



Being a wanderer throughout his life, Husain gave an impression of a home in his art. He would not stay anywhere in the world more than a few years. He travelled bare feet all over the world and adjusted himself every time at a new place or country for time being. He was like a free bird who would build his nest wherever he would go. But in his unconscious he was always in a search for home that he actually explored in his art and expressed his search for a home onto his canvases. He discussed the hollowness in his life and how homeless he felt after leaving India.



His shifts to various subjects are interesting to observe. He excitedly captured the richness of Indian culture and civilization that further sprout into his depiction of Indian rituals, dance forms, festivals, urban and rural life of India that clearly showed how religion and tradition together makes up Indian culture. He discussed the core folk culture of India. His illustrations, sketches and drawings seemed natural.



A large mural sized 11 feet x 5 feet stole the show. This huge mural was exciting for the viewers to observe and experience the diversity of subject Husain could splash on his canvases. The process of painting and linking one image with the other was one of the master strokes of the artist. He used to explore and investigate his subjects during the process of paintings. The smooth, gentle yet striking mural won hearts of Husain’s admirers. The mural was one of the attractions of the exhibition as Husain’s murals are hard to find.



Growing up in diverse culture and experiencing and observing religions so closely, Husain’s interest in the system of universe grew. He did not paint cosmos following an idea. Nevertheless his approach toward such subjects was political and comprehensive that he showed through symbols. He defined the tuneful cycle and system of cosmos pleasantly.



From a far inspection, his works mainly comprised of true images of freedom of expression and speech due to which he had to face a lot of controversies. He was seen more as a Muslim than an Indian in India. Husain loved to collect the essence of every religion and would paint whatever struck his mind. He was unapologetic for his love of what he painted.



Virtuous Husain spoke in resilient visual contemporary language through his oeuvre. He unbolted and expressed himself in many ways and emotions without any fright of being a Muslim for Hindus and an Indian for Muslims.



His exquisite delineation of beauty was always in detail yet not easy to decipher the true meaning as his images had layers of meanings open to various interpretations; the more one untangles the more involved one gets.



The striking artworks are not a narration of events, continuity of time and period nor confined in time. His work is timeless that commented on society, behaviors and evoke senses regardless of visually illustrating them. His work commented on the rituals, notions and social events. His creations are a true portrayal of past events, spirituality and freedom. Years of research and observation made him master the technique of distorting images in a unique form yet manifest his creativity and expressions.



If one would closely observe the 40,000 paintings he produced in his life time, one could read the story of his life through his paintings; his search for his mother, loneliness, struggle, spirituality and free life style. His paintings are an obituary for him and a walk through his life.



Today Husain is among one of the most celebrated artists of the world. Husain’s art is his legacy. In his interview with Al Jazeera he said that he would always want to be remembered as ‘a man of renaissance’.



Life & journey of MF Husain…


The grave loss of MF Husain’s mother played a big role in his career and life. He lost his mother when he was one and a half year old and subsequently his parental grandmother looked after him later he lived with his maternal grandfather in Gujrat. He was very much fascinated with Kufic calligraphy while his stay in Gujrat. Although raised in a Muslim family he was very much enthralled with the Indian culture which he was exposed to since his childhood. He was always on the go since he was ten years old.



In his teens, he was very active and was the captain of Soccer Football team of his school and would organize Olympics in school. After 10th grade, he told his father that he doesn’t want to spent years to get arts degree and would like to independently learn art. Husain dedicated 2 years of his life solely to make paintings and learn techniques. He later in 1920 received his Bachelors in art from Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy School of Art in Mumbai in.



In 1937 he realized to pursue his career in art. Choosing art as a career did not bring a luxurious life for Husain in the beginning. When he came to Mumbai, he lived on the pavements and made paintings but that did not help him financially as he was not known by that time. Because of his love for Indian Cinema he started painting Cinema boards and posters.



In 1941, he got married to Fazila Bibi. According to Husain, the best job for him at that time was working in a toy factory where he used to paint toys and nursery rhymes on furniture for the Bombay elite families. He would get mesmerized by images around him.



In 1947, winning a prize at Mumbai’s art society annual exhibition was a turning point for Husain’s career as an artist. His work came in the limelight and struck to one of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Society’s members Francis Newton Souza. The group was formed after a few months of partition and the motive of the group was to create new avat- grande art that could depict a colorful and new art of India to the world and that absolute spark was seen by many in Husain’s work. Secretly harboring a wish to do extraordinary in the arts and introduce new methods and ideas, Husain found the partition period as a turning point for India as well as for art thus he became the founding member of The Progressive Artists’ Group in Bombay in Dec 1947. He adopted modified cubist style of painting and got recognition all over the world.



His painting style was more influenced by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque; the pioneers of cubism art movement. He brilliantly merged the two powerful aspects, cubism and traditional style, and created his own style which is why many art critics and writers named him ‘The Picasso of India’.



He grew as an artist and held his first exhibition in Zurich, Switzerland and later in 1964 USA at India House in NYC. In 1971, He was especially invited at the Sao Paulo Biennale in Brazil along with Pablo Picasso which is one of honors for the artist as Picasso has been his inspiration throughout. Although Husain could not meet him but he believed that his art work could be better understood by Picasso.



Not wearing shoes was a statement for Husain since he contemplated that footwear is the first thing that anyone would notice about an individual and build his image by the type of shoes they wear but Husain questioned this concept by being bare feet wherever he traveled.



Free spirited Husain enjoyed the most of fame and respect in India and other countries. His work became a brand and his name a brand name. Not only a versatile artist, but Husain was a veteran architect, poet, film maker and a writer. His talents were God gifted that people believed that he could turn dust into gold with his creativity, brilliance and God gifted skills. He wanted to become a film maker from the beginning. He claimed that film making is another brand of the arts and there is a lot of space in this field. Having a revolutionary nature, he also wanted to direct the Indian Cinema towards producing artistic projects. He directed a number of movies along with ‘Gaja Gamini’ and ‘Meenaxi: Tale of three cities through the eyes of a painter’ are notable works of Husain.



His paintings were his stories knotted and sometimes tangled with each other in a form of series that only an observer could untangle. He was also played a part in politics in India by getting nominated for Raj Sabha in 1986. He held the position till 1992.



Being born in India, he loved Indian culture and history. He would fearlessly explore other religion’s beauty that agitated controversies. He painted religions and Hindu Gods however it became problematic for Husain when he portrayed the Hindu Gods’ nude so much so that he had to leave India and lived in self-exile in Doha, Qatar.



For him there was no relaxing place for him that he would call ‘home’ however he always had an urge to go back to India but the circumstances were not in his favor throughout. He produced approximately more than 40,000 paintings in his career of 10 decades and breathed last in London. He died at the age of 95 due to a heart attack and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery, Surry, England.





























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