Artist Maqbool Fida Husain
Abu Dhabi – Jamal Almajaydeh
In his final interview, it was world-renowned artist Maqbool Fida Husain’s wish to return to his homeland, India, to spend his final days there and not in exile. I asked if this was his wish, the man whose name has reached every corner of the world, answered
with a tired smile, “Yes. I’m tired of alienation and now I feel is the time, in my old age, to rest in my homeland.”
A few days later, the "Picasso of India” was pronounced dead at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, at the age of 95.
During our meeting in Abu Dhabi, Husain arrived precisely on time. He was barefoot and wore a loose pair of trousers, his long white hair carefully combed. After a short break in the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank courtyard, I asked him, “Is there a reason as to why you are barefoot? Does it have anything to do with contemporary art?” he laughed and responded: “I haven’t worn shoes since I was a small child in India and I got used to it and stuck to this habit.” He added: “I feel more freedom, artists don’t usually like restrictions, not even shoes which may constrain some of his thinking.”
What hurt Husain the most was that he was living in voluntary exile, moving between London, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha where his family and friends are. He fled his homeland after he was targeted by Hindu extremists who did not agree with his artwork, as they felt it insulted their Hindu beliefs.
I didn’t notice any signs of old age during our meeting, he was painting and signing some of his art and remembered specific dates of each piece. Little did he know that he would pass away in London, not India like he desired.
During our meeting, he very briefly explained to me how he turned from a cinema billboard painter into an international art icon in India whose works sells for millions. He also spoke of his long-running experience as an artist and of how essential it is to have the determination and work very hard in order to achieve one’s goals.
Husain spoke of the creative value of art; that a person needs to be talented, practice hard, and have high self-esteem in order to continue and advance as an artist.
For someone who follows Maqbool’s art, you notice how, over the years, his art focused on the interior vision of an artist, reflecting classical Hindu mythology and philosophy. In addition, Arabic Calligraphy, Islamic ideas of Sufism, traditional Buddhism, and all the other rich stories of visual arts are all considered sources of inspiration for Maqbool’s art work.
Maqbool said that what pained him the most even when he was living in exile was that he was continuously targeted by Hindu extremists who claimed that his paintings, especially ones of their Gods
drawn naked, is humiliating to them. Husain’s death saw mixed reactions in India, but at an official level he was described as a “prominent figure”. The President of India, Pratibha Patel, said that, “The death of Maqbool Husain will leave a deep gap in the world of art and creativity.”
As for India’s Prime Minister Manhoman Singh, he said, “The Indian nation has lost a creative and talented artist, one of the most exclusive art figures in the world, and has left the imprint of his genius on Indian art.”
Political groups who caused Husain’s exile also mourned him. Leader of Shiv Sena Bal Thackeray who was at the top of the campaign against Husain said, his tone remarkably conciliatory, “The artist was national treasure and his contribution to the Indian world of art cannot be denied or ignored.” He stressed that whatever arguments occurred in the past, they must end now with the death of Husain. He added: “if his family wishes to bring back his remains to India then they should be alllowed to do so.”
Husain’s art career played a major role in shedding light on the creativity movement in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. The artist produced numerous works of poetry, films and paintings over many years, and he wished that they would be widely acclaimed, but the events of the past ten years that hit him prevented that from happening.
Husain once said to a friend, “I doubt my name will be recorded in history, but it will either way allow me to appear in one part of it.”
Husain had moved to reside in Dubai in 2006 after receiving death threats after painting a picture of a naked woman in the shape of India’s map, and a naked picture of Hindu Goddess Saraswati .
Husain started his career as a cinema billboard painter for Bollywood movies, and decades later his paintings became a symbol of taste amongst the wealthy classes of India. Husain set out on the road to fame during the 1940s, as part of a group led by the artist Francis Newton Souza, who broke traditions of Indian contemporary art and shot to fame upon drawing paintings of horses.