By the 1940s, Indian politics, economy and society underwent great changes. Most of the world including India felt the brutal force of World War II, India however was also amidst its struggle for independence from British rule. The war brought to India many Europeans and Americans, who came as soldiers and refugees and interactions with the foreigners left an impression on the art practices.
The strings of this restlessness reached Mumbai by 1947 which led to the formation of the Progressive Artists Group. Artists who joined this group were Francis Newton Souza, Maqbool Fida Husain, Syed Haider Raza, Krishna Howlaji Ara, Hari Ambadas Gade, and S Bakre, a sculptor. The group of young artists felt an affinity with international modernism and dwelled on the formal values of a painting.
Husain has made a substantial contribution to the shaping of modern art in India. A versatile artist he started his career in Mumbai by painting cinema hoardings for a livelihood. His paintings are characterized by bold lines, colours and his experimentation with various material and themes that depict very real events. His artist oeuvre has not been restricted to painting and Husain has dabbled in a multitude of media such as designing toys in wood, furniture, murals, drawings, graphic-prints, installations, documentaries, short films, feature films etc. His first film ‘Through the Eyes of a Painter’ won a Golden Bear Award.
Of the works in the collection of the NGMA, ‘Zamin’ executed in 1955, is an outstanding example of Husain’s painterly skills. The painting also won a National Award. A large horizontal, panoramic painting, it explores and diligently captures the relationship between a peasant and the earth. The figures have a certain monumental dignity that has been delineated with firm and sharp angular lines. The figures have been presented with a certain heroism which becomes a recognizable feature in Husain’s later works. Motifs like the rooster, the packhorse, the bull, the wheel, feature repeatedly in Husain’s images.