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Mother India: The Goddess in Indian Painting
From left, Devi, or the Great Goddess, ca. 1725; Tree Spirit Deity (Yakshi), 1st-2nd century; and Kali by Y. G. Srimati (1927–2007), in “Mother India: The Goddess in Indian Painting” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art


June 9, 2011

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New York, get ready to bow down to the Hindu gods! Two major New York museums have scheduled exhibitions of artworks devoted to Hindu deities this month. At the Brooklyn Museum, the subject is “Vishnu: Hinduism’s Blue-Skinned Savior,” June 23-Oct. 2, 2011. The many-armed preserver of the universe is represented through more than 170 works of sculpture, painting, textiles, shrines, contemporary Bollywood posters and other objects, ranging from the fourth century C.E. to the 20th century. Highlights include a 10th century sandstone sculpture of the god relaxing atop a giant serpent and a watercolor, Krishna Fluting For the Gobis, showing Vishnu’s human manifestation performing for a group of milkmaids.

Over at the Metropolitan Museum of Art a week later, the beloved Great Goddess Devi, one of the earliest subjects of figurative Indian art, is at the heart of “Mother India: The Goddess in Indian Painting,” June 29-Nov. 27, 2011. Devi was not a singular goddess, but a range of female manifestations -- a mother, a demon destroyer and a protector. As a result, Devi has inspired some of the most potent depictions of the female form in Indian art history.

The 30 works on display from the museum’s collection span from the first millennium BCE throughout the 20th century. In a dark 18th century painting, Devi, Or the Great Goddess, Devi takes on the form of the fearsome goddess Durga, each of her 12 arms wielding a different weapon.

Sculptural works include another representation of Durga in the brass The Goddess Durga Slaying the Buffalo Demon from the 12th century. Then there’s the intricately molded clay Goddess with Attendants from the 1st century BCE and a 12th-century bronze Yasoda Nursing the Infant Krishna that was thought to be commissioned by royalty for use in a private chapel.

No works from the controversial artist M.F. Hussain, who died today, June 9, 2011, are included in either show. The artist, known as the “Picasso of India,” frequently drew protest for his “sacrilegious” depictions of nude goddesses. The Met may well be trying to avoid such trouble -- the exhibition press release doesn’t mention Devi’s religious associations except to briefly mention that she “stands alongside Shiva and Vishnu in the first rank of the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain pantheons.”

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