Tyeb Mehta – A tribute

Tyeb Mehta, one of India’s most tal-ented and celebrated artists, passed away in Mumbai on July 2. He had been battling ill health for some years.

Born in Kapadwanj, Gujarat, the 83-year-old artist lived in Mumbai for most of his life apart from brief but crucial spells in London, New York and Santiniketan.

Tyeb Mehta was an artist of quiet humility but was vocal and public in his stand against communal violence and in his support of human rights and the freedom of expression. His work was notable for its commitment to the ideals of equality and freedom.

When he was 22, India was partitioned and his street was also divided, reflecting the reality of a ravaged subcontinent. He was unable to travel the relatively short distance to his workplace. In the bloodbath that followed, he was witness to a horrifying incident in which a young man was lynched. This was an image that would stay with him for the rest of his life. "The crowd beat him to death and smashed his head with stones," he said in an interview with art critic Nancy Adajania. "I was sick with fever for days afterwards and the image still haunts me today. I am paralysed by the sight of blood, violence of any kind, even shouting…"

Sixteen years ago he drew by hand the huge backdrop for SAHMAT’s Artists Against Communalism cultural sit-in at the Shivaji Park in Mumbai in 1992. Against this backdrop, Sitara Devi and Astad Deboo danced and Hariprasad Chaurasia played the flute. Despite his increasing physical frailty in recent years, he came out to join the protest at Mumbai’s Jehangir Art Gallery in May 2007 after the BJP attacked the student review in the art department of the MS University in Vadodara.

For us at Sabrang, Tyeb Mehta and his family have been staunch supporters of our work and he was generous in donating his work to support our efforts against communal forces.

We join the wider art fraternity in paying tribute to a fine artist who spoke out during dark times.

– Editors

Archived from Communalism Combat, July 2009 Year 15    No.142/ Tribute 3



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