Arpita Singh's free-floating compositions address challenging social and political subject matter, while maintaining an aura of gentle grace and quiet luminosity. Drawing partly on the stylistic devices of Kantha embroidery, (Singh spent four years working in the Calcutta and Delhi Weavers service center) her paintings consume the entire canvas sacrificing baseline and perspective for figural relationships and pattern. The artist plays with hierarchy of scale, usually placing a large figure in the center of her compositions and surrounding them by hovering objects relevant to their character. (see also next lot) Predominantly depictions of women situated amongst icons signifying both violence and domesticity, her work, with the advent of the Gulf War in 1991, began to incorporate soldiers and other uniformed militia onto its canvasses. This painting, which illustrates the story of Bhishma, the supreme king of Hastinapur and patriarch of the Kuru dynasty in the Mahabharata, effectively combines elements from contemporary events with ancient Hindu mythology.
This work portrays the final scenes in the life story of Bhishma, specifically the battle between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. Bhishma, which means "the person of the terrible oath", received his name by renouncing the throne of the great kingdom of India, instead accepting a vow of celibacy and a life dedicated to the instruction of both the Pandavas and Kauravas, all the great-grandchildren of his stepmother. Eventually years of jealousy on behalf of the Kauravas towards the Pandavas, in spite of Bhishma's futile efforts to treat each equally, resulted in an epic battle between the two sets of cousins. Bhishma, by an unfortunate stroke of fate, was forced to fight on the side of the Kauravas even though he favored the Pandavas. However, in an effort to end the warfare he revealed his one Achilles heel, instructing the most skilled archer of the Pandavas, Arjuna, to aim directly for his back in order to defeat him. Arjuna covered Bhishma in arrows until he could no longer fight and the wounded man lay down on a bed of 1000 arrows refusing to die until the battle was over. This painting illustrates this penultimate scene in the life of Bhishma showing him awaiting the end of the war. In the story, Bhishma's sole comfort was a stream of fresh spring water, suggestive by the blue overtones in the work
In Bhishma, Singh recasts the Pandavas and Kauravas as contemporary men waging a street battle or perhaps as a football match. She poignantly selects the scene from this story which comes immediately before the satiating triumph of good over evil, a scene in which the violence is unresolved and battle is still raging. The reclining figure of Bhishma adopts the funereal overtones with flowers and a decorative pillow, while a ring of disassociated cars, possibly a procession, traverse their way around the edge of the canvas. These awkward and impersonal cars seem unaware of the brutality happening within their midst and hint at a prevailing sense of societal apathy towards the insistent war and brutality. The painting, in spite of its violence, heavy allegorical and cultural references, remains surprisingly light and elegant in its aesthetics. Singh's mastery of the brush is shown in the delicate rendering of Bhishma, the cool palette and graceful weightlessness of even the warring figures.