Oh! A Husain.
The world knows so much about Maqbul Fida Husain already. He was one of the most celebrated artists in India and abroad. This came with the simultaneous advantage and disadvantage of a very public understanding of his art practice. So even with the slightest knowledge of studies surrounding Husain’s life and works, it is not much of a stretch to identify the image as a representation of the Hindu Goddess Durga with her son Ganesh.
With this realization there is immediately the story that we all know. Durga comes back to our realm every year to visit her home. This image is a very direct queue to this as it shows the Goddess getting ready to leave with her son. It is a glimpse of a moment between having packed and getting up. A moment between stability and motion. A moment captured where everything doesn’t need to be seen, just understood through the simplest signs.
The painting has a shockingly powerful visual impact due to the masterful use of paper white in the composition. Three greens, two blues, black, grey, brown and red- used separately and distinctly within an encompassing white space. The work is one of a series of such vibrant oil pastel works done sometime between 1995 to 2000.
There is no flattering idealization. No glorification of either the Goddess or her son. They are not as popular culture and stories make her to be but as Husain has imagined. A depiction of life that he picked up directly from around him. Durga and Ganesh. A mother and her child. Going about the preparation of a journey as any human would.
So many artists have used the idea of a mother and child in their works yet this is so different from any and all of them. Ganesh is not on his mother’s lap. He is not even fully visible. He is there as a symbolic presence and Durga is the focus. She prepares to leave and signals to her son- a very subtle glance or maybe even a nod which is why her head tilts slightly to the right toward Ganesh. Or it could be that the weight on top of her head is too much which leads her hands to hold it while she tries to get up.
Here lies the most impressive aspect of the painting. The immediate and gripping tension- is she getting up? Her left foot is half stretched out into the surrounding blankness of the paper. Her position indicates movement. She is about to stand up. This is the beginning of her journey.
Simple, bold, striking. The composition is unique. The colours are brilliant yet constrained. To me the work stood out among many others as a work of art- as a testament to the artist’s control over colour, form and visual expression.
Painting by Maqbul Fida Husain
1995 - 2000
21.5 x 15 cm
Oil Pastel on Paper
Private Collection of Jayeeta Bagchi