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Mahishasura (1996)
By Tyeb Mehta

Acrylic on canvas
Signed and dated ‘Tyeb 96’ (upper left); further signed and dated ‘Tyeb 96’ (on the reverse); property from a distinguished private collection.
59.875 x 48 inches (152.1 x 120 centimetres)
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The revered Indian Modernist painter Tyeb Mehta (1925-2009) spent the majority of his life contemplating the human condition; his subjects sometimes illustrating his disillusioned vision of the modern day world.

The present work, Mahishasura (1996), is the most important painting from Mehta’s groundbreaking series of the same title.  Heavily inspired by ancient mythology and Hindu literature, Mahishasura recounts the legend whereby the Brahmin Demon-King Rambha produces an invincible son through his union with a she-buffalo. Mehta fuses ancient imagery with simplicity of form, colour and line, resulting in powerfully modern works full of fresh vitality.

This work conjures images of Pablo Picasso’s pivotal painting, Guernica. Just as Mehta was inspired by the bull, Picasso also regularly depicted multiple forms of the bull and most often the mythological creature, the Minotaur. Although the symbolism of the bull and the horse in Guernica remain ambiguous, the bull in Mehta’s works can be seen to symbolise the artist’s attempt to shed light on the culture and predicaments faced by the Indian Subcontinent and its people, becoming in essence a symbol of pain and struggle, yet simultaneously of survival.