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M.F. Husain

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MF Husain

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Maqbool Fida Husain (17 September 1915 – 9 June 2011) commonly known as MF Husain, was an Indian-Qatari painter and Film Director.

Husain was associated with Indian modernism in the 1940s. His narrative paintings, executed in a modified Cubist style, can be caustic and funny as well as serious and sombre. His themes—usually treated in series—include topics as diverse as Mohandas K. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the British raj, and motifs of Indian urban and rural life. One of the most celebrated and internationally recognized Indian artists of the 20th century, he also received recognition as a printmaker, photographer, and filmmaker.

Husain first became well known as an artist in the late 1940s. He was one of the original members of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group founded by Francis Newton Souza.  This was a clique of young artists who wished to break with the nationalist traditions established by the Bengal school of art and to encourage an Indian avant-garde, engaged at an international level.  His first U.S.A. exhibit was at India House in New York in 1982. In 1952, his first solo exhibition was held at Zürich and over the next few years, his work was widely seen in Europe and the US. In 1966, he was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri award by the Government of India.

Indifferent to both religion and politics, Husain, a Muslim by upbringing, treated the gods and goddesses of Hinduism as visual stimuli rather than deities, depicting them unclothed and often in sexually suggestive poses. This earned him the bitter hatred of Hindu nationalist groups, which beginning in the 1990s mounted a campaign of intimidation and violence against him. The paintings in question were created in 1970, but did not become an issue until 1996, when they were printed in Vichar Mimansa, a Hindi monthly magazine, which published them in an article headlined “M.F. Husain: A Painter or Butcher”.  In response, eight criminal complaints were filed against him. In 2004, Delhi High Court dismissed these complaints of “promoting enmity between different groups … by painting Hindu goddesses – Durga and Sarswati, that was later compromised by Hindus.”

In 1998 Husain’s house was attacked by Hindu groups like Bajrang Dal and art works were vandalized. The leadership of Shiv Sena endorsed the attack. Twenty-six Bajrang Dal activists were arrested by the police.  Protests against Husain also led to the closure of an exhibition in London, England.

Husain became the best-paid painter in India, with his highest-selling piece fetching $1.6 million at a 2008 Christie’s auction.  Hundreds of lawsuits in connection with Husain’s allegedly obscene art were outstanding as of 2007.  A warrant was issued for his arrest after he did not appear at a hearing, though this warrant was later suspended.  Husain lived in self-imposed exile from 2006 until his death.   He generally lived in Doha and summered in London.

In 2010, he was conferred Qatari nationality, and he surrendered his Indian passport.  In Qatar, he principally worked on two large projects, one on the history of Arab civilization, commissioned by Qatar’s first lady, Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, and one on the history of Indian civilization.  The works are to be housed in a museum in Doha.  For the last years of his life Husain lived in Doha and London, staying away from India, but expressing a strong desire to return, despite fears of being killed.

At the age of 92 Husain was to be given the prestigious Raja Ravi Varma award by the government of Kerala.  The announcement led to controversy in Kerala and some cultural organisations campaigned against the granting of the award and petitioned the Kerala courts. Sabarimala spokesperson, Rahul Easwar, went to Kerala High Court and it granted an interim order to stay the granting of the award until the petition had been disposed of.

In 2010, the Jordanian Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center named Husain as one of the 500 most influential Muslims.

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