M. F. Husain

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Maqbool Fida Husain
Born Maqbool Fida Husain
(1915-09-17)17 September 1915
Pandharpur, Bombay Presidency, British India
Died 9 June 2011(2011-06-09) (aged 95)
London, England, United Kingdom
Nationality Indian (1915-2010)
Qatari (2010–2011)[1]
Education Sir J. J. School of Art
Known for Painting, Drawing, Writer, Film Maker
Notable work Meenaxi a tale of three cities
Through the eyes of a painter
Movement Progressive Art Group
Awards Padma Shri (1966)
Padma Bhushan (1973)
Padma Vibhushan (1991)

Maqbool Fida Husain (17 September 1915 – 9 June 2011[2]) commonly known as MF Husain, was an Indian painter and Film Director. In 1967, He has received the National Film Award for Best Experimental Film for Through The Eyes of a Painter.[3] In 2004, he directed Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities, which was screened in the Marché du Film section of the 2004 Cannes Film Festival.[4]

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—sometimes 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.


M. F. Husain was born into a Muslim family on 17 September 1915 in Pandharpur to a Sulaymani Bohra family who trace their roots back to Gujarat within the last 200 years, and then originally to Yemen.[5] Primarily self-taught, Husain painted cinema posters in Mumbai early in his career. To earn extra money, he worked for a toy company designing and building toys. He often travelled to Gujarat to paint landscapes when he could afford to.[6]


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.[7] 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. The artists cite "The Partition" of India and Pakistan 14 August 1947, with its resulting religious rioting and heavy loss of life as their reason for forming The Progressive Artist's Group in Bombay in December, 1947.[8] Husain's first solo exhibit was in 1952 in Zurich.[9] His first U.S.A. exhibit was at India House in New York in 1964.[10] In 1966, he was awarded the prestigious Padma Shri award by the Government of India.


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 short film award.[11][12]

M. F. Husain was a special invitee along with Pablo Picasso at the Sao Paulo Biennial (Brazil) in 1971.[9] [13][better source needed] He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1973 and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1986.[13][better source needed] He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1991.


His paintings allegedly hurt the religious sentiments of Hindu nationalist groups, which beginning in the 1990s mounted a campaign of protest against him.[2] 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".[2] 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."[14][15]

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.[16] Protests against Husain also led to the closure of an exhibition in London, England.

He has also produced & directed several movies, including Gaja Gamini (2000) (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.[17][better source needed] 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 also appeared in a scene in film Mohabbat, which had Madhuri Dixit in lead role. In the film, the paintings that were supposedly done by Madhuri were actually Husain's.[18] He went on to make Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities (with Tabu). The film was pulled out of cinemas a day after some Muslim organisations raised objections to one of the songs in it.[19] 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. Following the wave of protests the enraged artist withdrew his movie from cinemas. The film was well received by the critics, however, and went on to win various awards.


In February 2006, Husain was charged with "hurting sentiments of people" because of his nude portraits of Hindu gods and goddesses.[20] In addition, in the 6 February 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.[21][22] Organizations like Hindu Jagruti Samiti and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) have protested persistently against Husain displaying the painting on the websites and even in exhibitions in north Europe. As a result, Husain apologized and promised to withdraw the painting from an auction, which was later sold for Rs 80 lakh in the auction.[23][24] The painting later appeared on Husain's official website.

Husain became the best-paid painter in India, with his highest-selling piece fetching $1.6 million at a 2008 Christie's auction.[22][25]

Hundreds of lawsuits in connection with Husain's allegedly obscene art were outstanding as of 2007.[26] A warrant was issued for his arrest after he did not appear at a hearing, though this warrant was later suspended.[26][27][28] Husain also received death threats.[27]

Husain lived in self-imposed exile from 2006 until his death.[27] He generally lived in Doha and summered in London.[1]

In 2010, he was conferred Qatari nationality, and he surrendered his Indian passport.[29][30] 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.[1] The works are to be housed in a museum in Doha.[1]

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.[31]

At the age of 92 Husain was to be given the prestigious Raja Ravi Varma award by the government of Kerala.[32] 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.[33]

In 2010, the Jordanian Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre named Husain as one of the 500 most influential Muslims.[34]

M. F. Husain died, aged 95, on 9 June 2011, following a heart attack. He had been unwell for several months.[35] He died at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, and was buried in Brookwood Cemetery on 10 June 2011.[36] India's former Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh said his death was a "national loss", and India's former President Pratibha Patil said his death "left a void in the world of art."[37] The actress Shabana Azmi called him an "iconoclastic painter, a wonderful human being and a very good friend".[38][39] Talking about his self-imposed exile and death outside of India painter Akbar Padamsee said that it was a "pity that a painter as important as Husain had to die outside his own country because of a crowd of miscreants".[40]

Supporters and critics[edit]

The artistic community was supportive[41] 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 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 wrote, "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."[42]

Other Indian artists expressed criticism. Satish Gujral publicly asked Husain whether would dare to Islamic figures similarly.[43] However Gujral stated that he deeply regretted the way Husain was treated and forced into an exile because of what Gujral termed "the mob culture".[44] 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."[45]

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."[46]

In response to the controversy, Husain's admirers petitioned the government to grant Husain the Bharat Ratna, India's highest award. According to Shashi Tharoor, who supported the petition, it praised 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."[47]

On his part Husain stated that Hindu leaders have not spoken a word against his paintings, and they should have been the first ones to have raised their voice.[48]

After Husain's death, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray said, "He only slipped up on the depiction of Hindu gods and goddesses. Otherwise, he was happy and content in his field. If his demise is a loss for modern art, then so be it. May Allah give him peace!"[49][50][51]


  1. ^ a b c d Ram, N. (25 February 2010). "M.F. Husain gets Qatar nationality". The Hindu. 
  2. ^ a b c William Grimes (9 June 2011). "Maqbool Fida Husain, also spelled Hussain, India's Most Famous Painter, Dies at 95". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ "15th National Film Awards" (PDF). International Film Festival of India. Retrieved September 21, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Meenaxi: Tale of 3 cities screened at Cannes". 
  5. ^ http://caravanmagazine.in/essay/understanding-husain
  6. ^ "Obituary: M F Husain – Famous, infamous". The Indian Express. 9 June 2011. 
  7. ^ Shah, Gayatri Rangachari (3 March 2011). "Not Just Modern Art, but Indian". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ http://www.artnewsnviews.com/view-article.php?article=progressive-artists-group-of-bombay-an-overview&iid=29&articleid=800
  9. ^ a b http://www.contemporaryindianart.com/m_f_husain.htm
  10. ^ http://www.indiaonline.in/about/Personalities/Painter/MF-HUSAIN.html
  11. ^ "Prizes and Honours 1967". Berlin International Film Festival. Retrieved 2012-06-30. 
  12. ^ "M.F. Husain 'Through The Eyes Of A Painter': A chronology". Deccan Herald. Indo-Asian News Service. 9 June 2011. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  13. ^ a b "M. F. Husain: M. F. Husain paintings, art work at Palette Art Gallery, India". Paletteartgallery.com. Retrieved 2012-06-30. 
  14. ^ "Delhi HC dismisses complaints against M.F. Husain". The Hindu. 8 April 2004. 
  15. ^ Decision in Husain v. State of Bihar (PDF). Delhi High Court. 8 April 2004.
  16. ^ Padmanabhan, R. (9–22 May 1998). "Assault on art". Frontline. 
  17. ^ "youtube.com". The work of the muse. Retrieved 12 December 2006. 
  18. ^ "Reema Nath made Husain act in 'Mohabbat'". Deccan Herald. Indo-Asian News Service. 13 June 2011. 
  19. ^ Kumar, Shiv (16 April 2004). "Husain pulls Meenaxi out of theatres". The Tribune. 
  20. ^ "M F Husain booked for his paintings of nude gods". Rediff. Press Trust of India. 7 February 2006. 
  21. ^ "Insult of Mother India by Hussain". Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  22. ^ a b Mittra, Anwesha (9 June 2011). "MF Husain: A life well lived". The Times of India. 
  23. ^ "MF Hussain apologises for obscene paintings". The Times of India. Press Trust of India. 7 February 2006. 
  24. ^ "HJS lodges FIR against Nafisa Ali for selling Hussain's art". Outlook India. 10 February 2006. 
  25. ^ Jana, Reena (11 December 2012). "The Late M.F. Husain, Already an Icon of Indian Art, Becomes a Market Darling". Art+Auction. 
  26. ^ a b "Hussain’s property: SC issues stay order". Dawn. 8 May 2007. 
  27. ^ a b c "MF Husain, a self-taught artist". The Times of India. Press Trust of India. 9 June 2011. 
  28. ^ "India's Supreme Court suspends arrest warrant for artist M.F. Husain". Taiwan News. Associated Press. 29 March 2009. 
  29. ^ "MF Husain dead at 95". India Today. 9 June 2011. 
  30. ^ "Has India lost its Husain forever?". NDTV. 25 February 2010. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  31. ^ "Police attach MF Husain's property in Mumbai". Daily News and Analysis. Press Trust of India. 6 May 2007. 
  32. ^ "MF Hussain selected for Raja Ravi Varma award". Hindustan Times. Press Trust of India. 12 May 2007. 
  33. ^ "High Court restraint on award for M.F. Husain". The Hindu. 14 September 2007. 
  34. ^ "The 500 Most Influential Muslims" (PDF). The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre. Retrieved 3 January 2011. 
  35. ^ "India's most highly prized artist MF Husain dies aged 95". BBC News. 9 June 2011. 
  36. ^ Elliott, John (9 June 2011). "MF Husain dies – lauded in exile by India's artistic fraternity". The Independent. 
  37. ^ "Artist and legend MF Husain dies in London". NDTV. 9 June 2011. Retrieved 10 January 2013. 
  38. ^ "Prominent Indian artist MF Hussain dies". Al Jazeera. 9 June 2011. Retrieved 9 June 2011. 
  39. ^ Naqvi, Muneeza (10 June 2011). "M.F. Husain, a top painter in India who left for exile". Philadelphia Inquirer. Associated Press. 
  40. ^ Maddox, Georgina (9 June 2011). "M F Husain, the great Indian artist, dies in exile". India Express. 
  41. ^ "Artists rally behind a beleaguered Hussain". Gulf News. Indo-Asian News Service. 10 May 2007. 
  42. ^ Tripathi, Salil (29 May 2006). "Meanwhile: The right to be offended". International Herald Tribune. 
  43. ^ "A brush with genius". Hindustan Times. 24 September 2006. 
  44. ^ Gupta, Shekar (7 April 2008). "On the record: 'Husain's exile makes me ashamed of my culture. . . the state hasn't expelled him, mob culture has'". Indian Express. 
  45. ^ Pawar, Yogesh (9 June 2011). "MFH RIP". Daily News and Analysis. Retrieved 9 January 2013. 
  46. ^ Mitra, Chandan. "Art for God's sake". The Pioneer. Retrieved 27 September 2007. 
  47. ^ Tharoor, Shashi (26 November 2006). "Our stories". The Hindu. 
  48. ^ Nainar, Nahla (2 June 2010). "I just want to work in peace, says Husain". Gulf Times. 
  49. ^ "Husain only 'slipped up' on depiction of Hindu gods: Bal Thackeray". The Hindu. 10 June 2011. 
  50. ^ Mishra, Ambarish (10 June 2011). "Gave up the country, not his obduracy". The Times of India. Times News Network. 
  51. ^ "Bal Thackeray: MF Husain 'slipped'; Raj: Time to put controversies behind". Daily News and Analysis. Press Trust of India. 9 June 2011. 

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