A massive 10-foot tall mural-sized painting created in 1975 by legendary artist M F Husain as a backdrop for former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s public rally is on display at the renowned Asia Society Museum here. The 60-foot wide oil on canvas painting ‘Lightning’ depicts horses, among Husain’s favourite subjects to paint, on 12 large panels put together.
One of the founding members of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, Husain created the painting as part of a series of paintings about India’s first female Prime Minister.
Gandhi had completed 11 years as prime minister and was addressing a meeting in Shivaji Park in Mumbai, then called Bombay in 1975. Husain painted ‘Lightning’ as a backdrop to this meeting. On June 25 of that year, Gandhi imposed a state of emergency across India.
The exhibition ‘M F Husain – Art and The Nation’ will run at the leading museum and cultural organisation through August 4. The painting has been lent to Asia Society by entrepreneur, investor and art collector Kent Charugundla, who had purchased the artwork from Husain in December 2002. Charugundla said after he started collecting the progressive artist’s works, he was fascinated by Husain’s paintings and wanted to have his largest work.
Lightning was not only one of Husain’s seminal works but also his signature paintings of horses. Charugundla told PTI he decided to lend the painting to Asia Society Museum because he wanted “everyone to have access to it and enjoy the masterpiece that M F Husain created in 1975 as a backdrop of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi’s speech”.
Charugundla said it was an “honour” for him to own an artwork of such a large scale. Emphasising the painting’s significance to him, he said Husain displays symbols of war, family planning, agriculture and nuclear power in a single artwork. “He shows the power of the horses marching from darkness to light with such a tremendous energy and power, charging to reach a destination,” he added.
“Lightning of M F Husain for India is what Guernica of Picasso is for Spain,” Charugundla said, referring to Picasso’s most famous 1937 anti-war painting created in response to the bombing of Guernica, a Basque Country town in northern Spain, by Nazi Germany. “The grandeur of the larger-than-life size horses depicted consumes and overpowers the viewers. It also shows the ability to execute a painting on such a large scale is a great accomplishment,” he said.
The 12 massive panels of the painting are littered with visual references to India and the 1970s, and though absent visually, to Gandhi herself, according to information about the painting from Asia Society.
“That Lightning was created in this tumultuous period of India’s history, positions Husain at the center of Indian modernism and elicits discussions about the role of art in shifting political contexts,” an overview of the exhibit said. Against a background of green, red, blue, purple and white horses outlined in black charge in an energetic and frenetic line toward the left, an indication of the unstoppable progress of the new nation. The painting is filled with visual references to India in the 1970s as well as to Gandhi.
According to information on the Asia Society website about the painting, the grain stalk seen towards the right of the artwork references India’s Green Revolution from 1967 to 1978 that was initiated in an attempt to make the nation self-sufficient in grain production. On the left is a mother with her two young children marked with a red triangle, denoting India’s family planning policies.
Other visual references in Lightning evoke the country’s industrial and military ambitions. The horse at far left of the painting is framed by the red sun of atomic power, a sign of the new nation’s technological promise of nuclear energy.