When asked what his favourite colour is, the ‘Picasso of India’ answered, “Red”.
A colour reflective of passion, energy, and the whole Indian kaleidoscope, one can notice the tinge of red and its variants in most of M F Husain’s paintings. Maqbool Fida Husain, once, said that he never intended to “denigrate or hurt the beliefs of anyone through art”, but quite a few of his paintings made waves in certain communities (especially Hindu) of our country.
Famous for depicting the free spirit nature of horses in his works, M F Hussain, popularly known as the Picasso of India has also been one of the most controversial painters of our country. Treated controversial for their subject matter and nudity, these paintings are a blend of Cubism and the classical Indian style of paintings.
The painting named “Bharatmata”(Mother India) which MF Husain claimed that he never gave the title to, remains perhaps the most controversial of all his paintings. His portrayal of nudity inflamed in red aroused bitter protests in different parts of the country. The weeping woman in this painting might imply the enslaved state of India after the colonial impact. Husain distanced himself from this controversial stance which invited the wrath of right-wing organisations like VHP and RSS.
In this particular painting, the great artist has depicted a nude Hitler, the Nazi dictator along with Karl Marx, a decapitated Mahatma Gandhi, and Einstein. In an interview, he had mentioned he resented Hitler and in another, he sanctified the purity of nudity in art. This contradiction between his ideologies led to the rise of controversy.
The portrayal of nude Hindu deities in his paintings lured mass protest amidst the Shiv Sena and Hindu sects. The SC Bench asked one of the petitioners, “Does the sentiment of the petitioner get scandalized by a large number of photographs of erotic sculptures which are in circulation?”
“It is very unfortunate that the works of any artist today who have tried to play around with nudity have come under scrutiny. They have to face the music, making them think twice before exhibiting their work. The criminal justice system should not be used as an easy recourse to ventilate against a creative art,” Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul of the HC had said.
These contentions had repercussions outside India too. His first solo exhibition in London closed prematurely on account of vandals’ spray painting on the major works in the gallery.
Even in the film world, he attracted controversies. His film ‘Meenaxi: A tale of three cities’ was stopped from screening as some Muslim organizations argued that the music dislocated their belief in the Quran as certain words were taken directly from it.
“Whenever you do new work which people don’t understand, they say it was done to create controversy”, Husain said once. These controversies, however, seem to be drab blemishes considering the contribution to art Husain has done.
Controversies never stopped this self-taught revolutionary artist to go on and become one of the most acclaimed painters of the world. Also known as the ‘barefoot artist’, for his habit of avoiding shoes, some of his paintings have fetched over a million dollars in the international art market. Awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1991, M F Husain remains one of the most celebrated and yet controversial painters of our times.