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A Tribute to M.F. Hussain

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Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime,

And departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time.

These lines by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow aptly describe one of the greatest painters India has ever produced, Maqbool Fida Hussain – the Picasso of India. On June 9, 2011, at the age of 95, he took his last breath in Royal Brompton Hospital in London.  One year after his death, he is still remembered and cherished as one who changed the definition of Indian art and gave it an eclectic style of his own.

He was an eminent figure in the Indian contemporary modernist art. His art forms mostly had a combination of mythical images with modern techniques, with deep influence of Cezanne and Matisse.  He incorporated these art styles into his depiction of Ramayana and Mahabharata. He was a gem of its own kind with an impeccable spark which lit, transformed and gave a new dimension to Indian art – a man with a sharp distinct vision and an unparalleled way of expression.

Association of Madhuri Dixit, a Bollywood star, with his painting gave him the popularity and recognition in the sub-continent, a painter whom people did not know before. It is heart-rending that Hussain’s work involving the star grabbed all the eyeballs, but the former was much more than just a star.  In all these arguments and approbation, he cultivated everything that was needed for his life as well as work – admiration, recognition, adoration, and association.

On the personal front, his bohemian lifestyle with tailored suits, long brush mostly used as stick and his walking barefoot was equally striking and iconic. He was a pioneer who rather than drifting with the crowd made his own identity breaking free from the mainstream.  His bold and eccentric personality showed in his paintings too. This trait gave him all the appreciation and recognition in the early years and unfortunately also dogged him into controversies and humiliation later leading to self-exile.

Life is impish and has its own ways of doing things.  He was accused of blasphemy due to personifying Bharat Mata on the canvas in a symbolic way showing nudity. His other art forms showing Hindu goddesses in nude manner also raised outcry among Hindu counterparts resulting in his self-exile in 2006.

His dream of living in India went with him to his grave. His love for the country is clear in these words of his, “For me, India means a celebration of life. You cannot find that same quality anywhere in the world. I never wanted to be clever, esoteric, and abstract. I wanted to make simple statements. I wanted my canvasses to have a story. I wanted my art to talk to people.” A chapter of contemporary Indian Art closed forever when the magic wand in those bony hands was lost and those bare feet stopped walking.

              By Sindhu Nathan

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