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MF Hussain

M. F. Husain

Maqbool Fida Husain, (born 1915, Pandharpur, Maharashtra) popularly known as M F Husain, is one of India's best known artists. He is more popularly known for his devotion to the Bollywood Diva Madhuri Dixit.

According to Forbes magazine, he has been called the "Picasso of India". After a long, successful career his work suddenly became controversial in 1996, when he was 81 years old, following the publication of an article about nude images of Hindu deities painted in the 1970s.

Husain comes from a Muslim Indian family. His mother died when he was one and a half years old. His father remarried and moved to Indore, where Husain went to school. In 1935, he moved to Bombay and was admitted to the Sir J. J. School of Art. He started off by painting cinema hoardings.

1940-1965

Husain first became well-known as an artist in the late 1940s. In 1947, he joined the 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. In 1952, his first solo exhibition was held at Zürich and over the next few years, his work was widely seen in Europe and U.S.. In 1955, he was awarded the prestigious Padma Shree prize by the Government of India.

1965-1990

In 1967, he made his first film, Through the Eyes of a Painter. It was shown at the Berlin Film Festival and won a Golden Bear.

M. F. Husain was a special invitee along with Pablo Picasso at the Sao Paulo Biennial in 1971. He has been awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1973 and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1991.

1990-Present

Husain went on to become the highest paid painter in India. His single canvases have fetched up to $2 million at a recent Christie's auction.

He has also worked (produced & directed) on few movies, including Gaja Gamini (with his muse Madhuri Dixit who was the subject of a series of his paintings which he signed Fida). The film was intended as a tribute to Ms. Dixit herself. In this film she can be seen portraying various forms and manifestations of womanhood including the muse of Kalidasa, the Mona Lisa, a rebel, and musical euphoria. He went on to make Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities (with Tabu). His autobiography is being made into a movie tentatively titled "The Making of the Painter.", starring Shreyas Talpade as the young Husain.

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) (USA, Massachusetts) showed a solo exhibition from 4 November 2006 to 3 June 2007. It exhibited Husain’s paintings inspired by the Hindu epic, Mahabharata.

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 Sangh Parivar organisations campaigned against the granting of the award and petitioned the Kerala courts. The Kerala High Court granted an intermin order to stay the granting of the award until the petition had been disposed of.

In early 2008, Husain’s Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata 12, a large diptych, from the Hindu epic, fetched $1.6 million, setting a world record at Christie's South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art sale.

Controversies

In the 1990s some of Husain's works became controversial because of their portrayal of Hindu deities in the nude The paintings in question were created in 1970, but did not become an issue until 1996, when they were printed inVichar 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 Husain. In 2004, Delhi High Court dismissed these complaints of "promoting enmity between different groups ... by painting Hindu goddesses — Durga and Sarswati — in an uncharitable manner hurting the sentiments of Hindus".

The controversy escalated to the extent that in 1998 Husain's house was attacked by Hindu groups like Bajrang Dal and art works were vandalised. 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.

In February 2006, Husain was charged with hurting sentiments of people because of his nude portraits of Hindu gods and goddesses.

A series of cases were brought against him and a court case related to the alleged obscene depiction of Hindu goddesses in his paintings resulted in issuing a non-bailable warrant against Husain after he failed to respond to summons. There were also reportedly death threats. The artist left the country stating that "matters are so legally complicated that I have been advised not to return home.". Now living in Dubai and London, he continues to stay away from India, but has expressed a strong desire to return, despite fears that he may be arrested and tortured in connection with these cases. A recent Supreme Court order has suspended an arrest warrant for Husain. The law ministry has examined half-a-dozen works by Husain and told the government that prosecutors would have a strong case against him if they sued him for deliberately hurting religious feelings

Mother India

In February 6, 2006 issue, India Today, a national English weekly published an advertisement titled "Art For Mission Kashmir". This advertisement contains a painting of Bharatmata (Mother India) as a nude woman posed across a map of India with the names of Indian States on various parts of her body. The exhibition was organised by Nafisa Ali of Action India (NGO) and Apparao Art Gallery.

Organizations like Hindu Jagruti Samiti and VHP have protested persistently against Husain displaying the painting on the websites and even in exhibitions in north Europe. As a result, on February 7, 2006 Husain apologised and promised to withdraw the painting from an auction.

The painting later appeared on Husain's official website.

Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities

Husain's film Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities was pulled out of movie theatres a day after some Muslim organisations raised objections to one of the songs in it. The All-India Ulema Council complained that the Qawwali song ‘Noor-un-Ala-Noor’ was blasphemous. It argued that the song contained words directly taken from the Quran. The council was supported by Muslim organisations like the Milli Council, All-India Muslim Council, Raza Academy, Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Hind and Jamat-e-Islami.

Husain's son stated that the words were a phrase referring to divine beauty that were being sung by the central character played by Tabu. He said there was no intention to offend.

Supporters and critics

The artistic community has been supportive as well as critical. Krishan Khanna, one of Husain's contemporaries, stated that "It's not just Husain's but the entire artist community's lives which are at stake. Anybody and everybody can file a case against us now. Anyone can infringe upon our lives". Others who have expressed anger at the "vicious campaigns" against Husain, include filmmaker Saeed Mirza, social activist Nafisa Ali, theatre personality M. K. Raina and a host of other artistes, art critics and art gallery owners. Salil Tripathi, writing in the International Herald Tribune, notes that Hindu goddesses have regularly been portrayed in the nude by Hindu artists. Tripathi asserts that,
It is hypocritical to place curbs on Husain's artistic freedom. What's more shameful is that a government that claims to be the secular alternative to Hindu nationalists is threatening to prosecute Husain. This does not do India proud; it adds to India's disgrace.

Other Indian artists have expressed criticism. Satish Gujral has gone on record to ask him whether he will be bold enough to treat icons of Islam in the same manner. However Gujral says he deeply regrets the way Husain was treated and forced into an exile because of what he terms "the mob culture". . According to a senior Hindu artist and former President, Bombay Art Society, Gopal Adivrekar,

Nothing is bad in being creative but the artists should not go for such artwork, which may hurt the sentiments of a segment of the society."

Writing in The Pioneer, Chandan Mitra wrote,

As long as such a law exists in the statutes, nobody can be faulted for approaching the courts against Hussain's objectionable paintings, nor can the judiciary be pilloried for ordering action against the artist for his persistent and deliberate refusal to appear before the court.[
In response to the controversy, Husain's admirers have petitioned the government to grant Husain the Bharat Ratna, India's highest award. According to Shashi Tharoor, who supports the petition, it praises Husain because his "life and work are beginning to serve as an allegory for the changing modalities of the secular in modern India — and the challenges that the narrative of the nation holds for many of us. This is the opportune and crucial time to honour him for his dedication and courage to the cultural renaissance of his beloved country.

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