Exhibition room 1. Maqbool Fida Husain

Maqbool Fida Husain [...] was an artist known for executing bold, vibrantly coloured narrative paintings in a modified Cubist style. He was one of the most celebrated and internationally recognized Indian artists of the 20th century. In 1935 Husain moved to Mumbai (Bombay), where he designed and painted graphic billboard advertisements for Bollywood movies. After his first serious work was exhibited (1947) by the Bombay Art Society, he was invited to join five other painters in founding the Progressive Artists Group. Husain, who became known as the “Picasso of India,” created works that could be caustic and funny as well as serious and sombre. His themes—usually treated in series—included topics as diverse as Mohandas K. Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the Indian epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the British raj, and motifs from the Bollywood film scene.

Source: Enciclopædia Britannica global.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1129293/MF-Husain

In 1971, the eleventh São Paulo Bienal invited two artists to participate hors concours: Pablo Picasso and Maqbool Fida Husain. The selection of Picasso reflected not only his worldwide fame but his historic importance for this Brazilian showcase of contemporary art, that almost twenty years earlier, in 1953, had shown fifty-one of his works (among them, the Guernica).

[...] In the end, Picasso sent no pictures, but this was Husain’s debut on the world stage, and he took his pairing with Picasso as a defining challenge. [...] He chose a subject from his own culture that equaled the physical presence and humanistic themes of Guernica. “The moment I got the invitation the first thought came to me... Mahabharata this is the right thing. Then I thought of Picasso... only Picasso could do it justice, [but] he’d not done it. Let me try.” [...] In choosing the Mahabharata, Husain presented to global culture one of the great Hindu epics. [...] Husain’s challenge was to find a visual conception that could convey the epic’s range and spiritual depth. His paintings do not illustrate events in the Mahabharata as a traditional narrative would, but rather capture its themes in compelling images.

Source: exhibition catalogue for “Post-Picasso: Contemporary Reactions,” Michael FitzGerald