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MF Hussain

Maqbool Fida Hussain (born on September 17, 1915 in Pandharpur,Maharashtra), hails from a Muslim family. He lost his mother when only one and a half years of age. His father moved to Indore after his remarriage where Husain had his schooling. He became popularly known as M F Hussain, the most well known and highest paid contemporary artist in India. Forbes magazine called him the ‘Picasso of India’.

In 1996 when he was 81 years of age, a controversy raged over the publication of his paintings of nude images of Hindu deities. He was an ardent self-proclaimed fan of the Bollywood Diva Madhuri Dixit. At the Christie's auction recently, his single canvases fetched up to $2 million.

Education and Career of MF Hussain

M F Hussain went to Mumbai in 1935 and studied at the Sir J. J. School of Art. He painted cinema hoardings to begin with. He joined the Progressive Artists' Group in 1947. This was a group that Francis Newton Souza founded, consisting of young artists who wanted to encourage an Indian avant-garde engaged with international level breaking away from the so-called nationalist traditions firmly rooted in the Bengal school of art. His first solo exhibition was held in 1952 at Zürich. His work has since been widely exhibited in US and Europe.

Important works by MF Hussain

A solo exhibition from 2006-2007 was held at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) (USA, Massachusetts) with his paintings inspired by Mahabharata, the great Hindu epic. A world record was set when Hussain’s large diptych, from the Hindu epic ‘Battle of Ganga and Jamuna: Mahabharata 12’ sold at Christie's South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art sale for $1.6 million in early 2008.

MF Hussain in Film Industry

Besides painting, he produced and directed a number of films. His first film was in 1967 titled ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’ which won a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. His other films include Gaja Gamini (with Madhuri Dixit who was also a subject of a series of his paintings) and ‘Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities (with Tabu). ‘The Making of the Painter’ is the tentative title a movie, an autobiography of Hussain with Shreyas Talpade acting as the young Hussain.

Awards and Achievements for MF Hussain

Hussain received numerous honours and awards including Padma Shree (1955), Padma Shree (1966), Padma Bhushan (1973), Padma Vibhushan (1991), and Raja Ravi Varma award (by the government of Kerala when he was 92 years of age). The Sao Paulo Biennial in 1971 saw him a special invitee along with Pablo Picasso. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986.

MF Hussain and Controversies

M.F Hussain work became controversial in 1996 when his works of the 1970s depicting Hindu deities such as Durga and Sarswati, in the nude were printed in Vichar Mimansa, a Hindi monthly magazine. The article was titled ‘M.F. Hussain: A Painter or Butcher’. Eight criminal complaints were filed against him which were however dismissed by the Delhi High Court.

In 1998 Hussain’s house was attached by Hindu extremist groups such as Bajrang Dal and vandalized his art works. An exhibition in London was closed due to strident protests. Again his painting of Bharatmata (Mother India) as a nude woman across an India map in an advertisement in 2006 at an exhibition organized by Nafisa Ali of Action India and Apparao Art Gallery were alleged to hurt the Hindu sentiments.

Hindu outfits such as Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Hindu Jagruti Samiti continued to organize protests in India and abroad. Hussain apologized promising to withdraw all such paintings in 2006. Hussain had to pull out his film ‘Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities’ from the movie theaters after Muslim organizations objected to one Qawwali song ‘Noor-un-Ala-Noor’ as blasphemous.


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