Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Death of an Era

On June 9, 2011 Maqbool Fida Hussain, one of India's consummate artists, bid farewell to the world and was buried in London far away from his homeland. The indomitable fighter, who was never deterred by the controversies he was mired in, finally bowed out at the age of 95, succumbing to a heart attack.

The painter from Pandharpur, Maharashtra, who was hailed as the 'Picasso of India’ by the Forbes Magazine was born on September 17, 1915 to a poor Muslim couple, Fida and Zunaib. After his mother died when he was an infant, his family moved to Indore where he studied at V.D Devlalikar's Art School. At the age of 20, a young ambitious, Husain moved to Bombay nurturing a dream to be an actor. But the wish did not materialize and he had to earn a living by painting cinema hoardings and designing and building toys. Husain joined the Sir JJ School of Art and came into contact with the Austrian expressionist Langheimer and art critic Rudy Von Leydon, who introduced him to 20th century Western art. In 1947, his painting 'Sunhera Sunsar' won an award at an exhibition held at the Bombay Art Society. In the following year he became the co-founder and secretary of the Progressive Artists Group, headed by Francis Newton Souza, which aimed to encourage an Indian avant-garde. Though M.F Husain gained international acclaim and fame with his solo exhibitions in Zurich and Prague in 1952, the crowning moment of his glittering career came in 1971 when he was sent a special invitation along with the legendary Pablo Picasso to attend the Sao Paulo Biennial.

Husain soon became the leading international face of modernist Indian art in the 20th century and was hailed for his multi-dimensional talents, creativity and cubist and abstract depiction of figures in Indian art. One of M. F Husain’s most famous paintings was ‘Between the Spider and the Lamp’, and his paintings were largely based on the Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata, Indian culture, women, nature, horses and music.

M.F Husain made a foray into the world of cinema by directing his first film, ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’, in 1967 which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. Husain continued to use cinema as a medium to showcase his artistic ability by directing critically acclaimed films like ‘Gaja Gamini’ starring Madhuri Dixit in 2000 and 'Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities’, with Tabu playing the lead in 2004. Husain shared a close bond with the members of the Indian film fraternity and was especially charmed by Bollywood beauties. Incidentally, Husain considered Madhuri Dixit to be his muse and made her the subject of a number of his paintings titled 'Fida'.

Husain's invaluable contribution to art and cinema brought him laurels from far and wide and he became India's highest paid painter. He was honoured by the Indian government with the Padma Vibhushan. He became a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1986. In 2008, he was bestowed with the Raja Ravi Verma award by the government of Kerala and his name was included in the list of "500 Most Influential Muslims in the World' issued by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan.

However, Husain’s splendid career was marred by controversies, court cases and hate campaigns. Unfortunately he ran into the saffron brigade who took offence on his depiction of Hindu goddesses in the nude. Husain hurt the sentiments of Hindus by painting goddesses like Durga, Lakshmi, Sita, Parvathy and Saraswati in an offensive manner. Although he apologized and withdrew paintings each time he outraged religious feelings, he was hounded out by Hindutva groups and his art exhibitions were vandalized. Husain who felt insecure within his own nation went into a self- imposed exile in 2006. In 2010 he accepted the citizenship of Qatar and died after a prolonged illness in London.

The iconic painter’s death was termed as a “national loss” by the Indian Prime Minister and the artistic fraternity mourned the demise of the “marathon man with no expiry date”. Anjolie Ela Menon recalling her long-time association with Husain said that she “always thought Husain as immortal” and that “his place in the Indian art world is secure forever”, while noted painter Satish Gujral, said that he considers Husain’s contribution to art as “unmatched and the most powerful” and that he “created a legacy”.

M. F Husain is survived by four sons and two daughters and his paintings continue to charm the world. Popularly known as the barefoot artist because for a number of years he discarded footwear, Husain was the epitome of simplicity and humility. Even though a few of the controversies he was embroiled in were self-created, the orchestrated violence he was subjected to was unwarranted. M.F Husain’s life and death are testimony to how artists are denied the right to freedom of expression and are at the receiving end of attacks by the so-called moral police. The death of India’s most charismatic and celebrated artist has brought the curtains down on a golden era.

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