Maqbool Fida Husain
Hopeful in its modernism and bold in its deconstruction of the human figure, Maqbool Fida Husain’s Man (1951) uses a post-cubist style to describe a heroic philosophical figure surrounded by chaos. A Muslim artist in Hindu-majority India, Husain was originally a painter of billboard advertisements for Bollywood movies. Like many commercial artists, he painted Man with a kind of expediency of layers, beginning with various base coats and building the work through a decisive overlay of colors. This painting also references the expansive dimensions of the billboard, albeit at a reduced scale. Husain was a leading member of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, which aimed to develop a distinctly Indian avant-garde, based on European modernism, but with an internationalist ambition. In this work he uses icons of Indian imagery to reflect the jubilance and uncertainty of the newly independent India.
Here Husain includes masked dancing folk figures, naked female bodies, and the image of the sacred cow. Aside from the use of black, the painting is mostly executed in the colors of the Indian national flag. Sitting crouched in contemplation, the heroic form of the central figure, who appears to hold a painting of two nude women, may be an avatar for Husain himself. While the figures around him suggest a swirl of activity, their rectangular borders suggest canvases in an artist’s studio. Surrounded by the chaos of the new India or the controlled chaos of the studio, Husain’s thinker gazes thoughtfully outward.