M.F. Husain’s ‘A Magician Dangles the Fortune Bird in a Cage’ (2005) is expected to go under the hammer on 6-10 December 2018 at ARTIANA’s South Asian Art online auction. This important work is part of the seminal ‘The Lost Continent’ Series exhibited at The Arts House in Singapore and at the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
In the last years of his creativity, MF Husain, age 95 was India’s best-known painter. During his long prolific career as an artist, he was a witness as history unfolds; from the great wars being fought, through genocides and holocaust, the partition and the unfurling of his nation from the British Raj to modern India. He witnessed deprivation, violence and rapid deterioration of human values across the world. In pursuing the theme, he dedicated his art to express the great loss he called, “The Lost Continent” which he made into a 21-part series chronicling his thoughts about lost human values.
In the painting where a magician dangles the fortune bird in a cage, “the bird is surrounded by a mosaic of riotous color. The bird is held by the stark blue hands of a magician, who is covered in a white cloth and slowly considering his next move. The composition lures viewers into a terrain where play and uncertainty coexist.”1 The title suggests a magician dangling the bird in a cage, just like in the popular magic trick; but behind the act is the magician knowing the true nature of the trick, concealed by the sleight of hand. Concurrently referencing Mahabharata, the blue hands signify Lord Krishna as he oversees the fate of the world. Starting from the game of dice, a key incident in the great epic, deceit had been a powerful driving force that ultimately led to the cosmic war from which the order of the universe was achieved. He orchestrated the war and change the whole course of the epic in ways more than one. Despite knowing the outcome, Lord Krishna let the events unfold and ensured that everyone answers to the laws of karma. Through the act of deception, he restores dharma into the world.
The immense narrative and pivotal personas that Husain picked from the epics convey deep meaning more than the explicit imagery. His symbolic images are introduced naturally in continual juxtaposition and serves as the foundation of his work. Husain used strong even coarse lines of Jain miniature painting to express energy and movement and sharp colors in basic simple design within a strong broad border as influenced by the Basholi period. The demotic stylistics, the use of symbols, folk elements, and vibrant colors have come to characterize Husain’s signature style.
Text Reference: Hwee Koon, MF Husain: The Lost Continent