M.F. Hussain: Strokes of controversy

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From court cases to vandalised exhibitions, to fatwas by Hindu hardliners, MF Husain was catapulted from the most celebrated Indian artist to the most controversial one in 1996.
Ten years later, the controversies and death threats forced him to leave the country. Here are some of the most controversial works in the legend’s illustrious life.
Nude paintings of hindu goddesses
Some of Husain’s works became controversial because of their portrayal of Hindu deities in the nude or in an allegedly sexual manner. While the paintings in question were created in 1970, they 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 “MF Husain: A Painter or Butcher”. Eight criminal complaints were filed against Husain in 1996.
In 1998, Husain’s house was attacked by Hindu groups and his works were vandalised. Protests against Husain also led to the closure of an exhibition in London. In 2004, Delhi High Court dismissed the cases against him.
Bharat Mata
In February 2006, a national English weekly published an advertisement titled “Art For Mission Kashmir”. This advertisement contained a painting of Bharat Mata (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 painting also showed one of her hands (claimed to be North Kashmir) chopped off or blurred to some extent.
The exhibition was organised by Nafisa Ali. Following nationwide protests against the painting, Husain apologised and promised to withdraw the painting from an auction. The painting later appeared on Husain’s official website.
Protests over this piece of art, as declared by the Supreme Court in 2008, forced Husain to go on a self-imposed exile and he took refuge in UAE. But by the time he had fled the country, there were over 1,200 cases filed against him.
Rape of India
Dedicated to the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, Husain created Rape of India. The painting represented India as a woman being raped, with an animal straddling her and of a man pulling her blouse away. It didn’t go down well with several Right-wing organisations and a dozen more cases were filed against him.
Meenaxi: A tale of three cities
Husain’s film Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities had to be pulled out of theatres as some Muslim organisations objected to a qawwali song ‘Noor-un-Ala-Noor’ which they said was blasphemous. The All-India Ulema Council had argued that the song included words which were directly lifted from the Quran.

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