Lot 11
  • 11

Krishen Khanna

Estimate
40,000 - 60,000 USD
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Description

  • Krishen Khanna
  • CHE DEAD - THE PHOTOGRAPH
  • Signed, dated and inscribed '"CHE DEAD"/ - THE PHOTOGRAPH"/ K Khanna 1970' on reverse
  • Oil on canvas
  • 59 1/4 by 50 1/4 in. (150.5 by 127.7 cm.)

Exhibited

Mumbai, Pundole Art Gallery, late 1970s

Condition

Good overall condition. Faint craqueleure throughout upper third of canvas.
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Catalogue Note

This potent work depicts a group of soldiers gathered around the corpse of Che Guevara. After he was executed, Guevara’s body was flown to a nearby city where he was placed on a concrete slab and witnesses were called to confirm the identity of the body. As the surrounding figures stared at, prodded and examined the cadaver, several iconic photographs were taken of the scene and then widely published in the media. Deeply moved by the photographs, as well as the story of Guevara’s ambush and execution, Khanna was driven to create a series of paintings depicting this event. The companion to this painting was Che Dead, Preparation for the Photograph, illustrated below.

The political upheaval during the 1960s, namely the revolutionary furor which populated Central and South America, the advent of the Bangladesh war of independence and Indira Gandhi’s imposed state of emergency, all served to influence the artist and act as a catalyst for the next stage in his career. Khanna began to explore and critique the dark underbelly of human violence, angst and oppression. This work was painted around the time Khanna began work on an important and intensely personal series of works known as The Dead and the Dying. 'The theme of death returns in a concerted way in the 1970’s. Many of his subjects draw directly from the idea of impending death or its violent aftermath. […] Krishen’s phase of involvement with the theme of social realism coincided with his activist period. […] There is a marked change from the lyrical paintings of his early years to something approaching an obsession with brutality in public life.' (Gayatri Sinha, Krishen Khanna: A Critical Biography, New Delhi, 2001, pp. 110-112). His style and manner of painting also evolved during this period, when his subjects were often depicted against dark backgrounds and the colour palette leaned towards warmer tones.

The art critic John Berger mentioned in an article that the number of people and their disposition in the photograph published by the American Press was the same as Mantegna’s dead Christ (Correspondence between Krishen Khanna and Amrita Jhaveri).  Khanna portrays Guevara in a Christ-like manner, a man who has been victimised and now becomes a martyr. It parallels the mocking of Christ by the Romans. Throughout his career Khanna has addressed the theme of the persecution of Christ which he used as a metaphor for the suffering of the everyday man. Khanna's 'Christ becomes emblematic of a resistance to persecution ...  this is neither the healing Christ, the divine worker of miracles or the haloed Son of God but the persecuted figure within an oppressive system.' (Gayatri Sinha, Krishen Khanna: The Embrace of Love, Ahmedabad, 2005, p.18).