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Mythical, Divine, Demonic: Animal Imagery in South Asian Art


Animals appear everywhere in the art of South Asia. One encounters them as gods with animal heads, powerful creatures that act as the mounts and companions of the gods, and fearsome beasts that spread destruction and chaos. While many animals are revered because they are seen as protective and as signs of good fortune, others inspire fear or require appeasement.

Our exhibition, Mythical, Divine, Demonic: Animal Imagery in South Asian Art, explores how single animals are interpreted in myriad ways across various regions and cultures. Different representations show how animals serve an array of artistic and symbolic functions. For example, depictions of serpents in connection to the great god Vishnu might be seen as helpful or demonic depending on the context.

Works in the exhibition are clustered into four groups that broadly focus on the lion, the serpent, the man-eagle, and composite beings who are a mixture of animals or part human and part animal. Through examining these objects, audiences will gain a deeper understanding of how animals play a complex role in world cultures.

Main Building

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Neeraja Poddar, The Ira Brind and Stacey Spector Associate Curator of South Asian Art

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