India's internationally renowned modern artist and filmmaker Maqbool Fida Husain was also known as the 'Picasso of India'. The paintings by M.F. Husain are considered to be the most controversial work of art by any Indian artist, and it was through these paintings that he earned both fame and controversy. Husain redefined art to a great extent with his wide repertoire of work that is a blend of classical Indian style and cubism. M.F. Husain is one of the most celebrated and internationally recognised Indian artists who also received recognition as a photographer, printmaker and filmmaker.
Born on September 17, 1915, into a Sulaimani Bohra family in Pandharpur, Maharashtra, who trace their roots to Gujarat with the last 200 years and originally from Yemen, Husain is a self-taught artist who began his career painting cinema posters in Mumbai. He also worked in a toy company designing and building toys to some extra money and travelled to Gujarat whenever he could afford it to paint landscapes.
Husain's career in art had begun before India gained its independence. He drew upon history, culture and iconography of the country to create beautiful art that often featured abstract imagery of women and horses. In his own words, M.F. Husain described his vision linked to '5,000 years of our great culture'.
The painter who created tens of thousands of canvases stayed back in India after partition. M.F. Husain joined a Bombay school of progressive artists pushing the already emerging modern Indian art scene to a more outward direction.
Husain supported himself as a cinema billboard painter during the early years of his career. His connection to Bollywood goes beyond the billboards as he loved Bollywood films and many actresses were his muse and subjects of his paintings including Madhuri Dixit, Amrita Rao, Anushka Sharma, Katrina Kaif, Tabu, Urmila Matondkar and Vidya Balan.
M.F. Husain's first film 'Through the Eyes of a Painter' made in 1967 received recognition at the Berlin Film Festival. M.F. Husain made many Bollywood films including 'Mohabbat', 'Gaja Gamini', 'Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities' and even his autobiography was made into a movie 'The Making of the Painter'.
Husain attracted a lot of controversies since he used to paint nude images of Hindu deities. He was also accused of hurting the sentiments of Hindu believers.
M.F. Husain faced huge outcry in 2006 over a work that was put up for auction by a non-profit organisation to raise funds for the Indian victims of an earthquake in the Kashmir region. The painting was named 'Bharatmata' and Husain denied ever naming it. The painting depicted a nude woman in bright pink colours with arms stretched and legs bent forming the shape of India and her hair outlining the Himalayas.
Right-wing Hindu activists often vandalised Husain's exhibitions, and many lawsuits were also filed against him accusing M.F. Husain of obscenity and inciting enmity among religious communities. Both are criminal offences that could have led to jail time. A Hindu politician even offered a bounty for chopping off the painter's hands.
The same year saw M.F. Husain's first solo show in London that had to be closed two weeks after its opening. The show was meant to be open for the entire summer but had to be shut after vandals spray painted several of the works displayed there.
Husain was never far from controversy, and not only his paintings but his movies also had to face the wrath. His film 'Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities' was pulled out of movie theatres a day after its release as some Muslim organisations argued that lyrics of one song in the film contained words from the Holy Quran.
Even the Gandhi and Hitler painting were not far from controversy. Out of the four leaders he painted, Mahatma Gandhi was decapitated, and Hitler was naked. Husain in an interview had shown his hatred for Hitler and depicted Hitler naked to humiliate him as M.F. Husain believed Hitler deserved it.
Troubles and controversies went hand in hand for Husain. The government of Kerala was to award M.F. Husain the prestigious Raja Ravi Varma Award at the age of 92 but even this announcement led to a controversy in the state. The Kerala High Court was approached by Sabarimala spokesperson and an interim order was passed to put a stay on the award until the petition was disposed off.
In the mid-1990's a Hindi monthly magazine 'Vichar Mimansa' published an article titled 'M.F. Husain: Painter or Butcher'. The article featured a collection of M.F. Husain paintings that were painted back in the 70s which featured Hindu Gods and Goddesses in sexually suggestive poses.
Husain, a Muslim by upbringing treated Hindu Gods and Goddesses as visual stimuli and not deities. He depicted them unclothed and often in sexually suggestive poses.
Horses were one of M.F. Husain's pet metaphors. It symbolised masculine vigour and energy to him and many of M. F. Husains' paintings feature horses. He painted them in all colours – white, black yellow, purple in all poses with open jaws or shut, galloping or standing straight.
One of M.F. Husain's acclaimed artwork 'Between the Spider and the Lamp' shows all Husain's strengths; draughtsmanship, sense of drama, eye for geometry and his fantastic sense of colour.
M.F. Husain represented the best of post-impressionist, cubist, burlesque, and expressionist styles of Indian art.
After facing so many controversies over his paintings, Husain opted to leave the country in 2010. He opted for Qatari citizenship. In an interview, M.F. Husain said that he would have remained in India to fight his fundamentalist critics if he were any younger, but at his age, he just wanted to focus on his work.
M.F. Husain was an incredible artist and among his best-known paintings are 'Zameen', which was inspired by a film on Bengal famine, 'Between the Spider and the Lamp', which depicts a row of five women with a spider and was issued as a postage stamp. Other works include a series of paintings of a woman holding a baby meant to represent Mother Teresa.
For the last years of his life, M.F. Husain lived in Doha and London, although his heart belonged to India. He expressed a strong desire to return despite the fear of being killed. According to his last wishes, he was buried in the country where he died and was buried in the Brookwood Cemetery on June 10th, 2011.