Mohan Samant: Masked Dance for the Ancestors

11 Oct – 29 Nov 2018

Neither style nor theme dictates my art. I paint as I please, for I paint for the pure pleasure of painting – Mohan Samant

Jhaveri Contemporary is proud to present a solo exhibition by Mohan Samant (1924–2004), who is considered to be a ‘missing link’ in the narrative of modern Indian art. The exhibition includes paintings and works on paper spanning three decades, from the 1970s to the 1990s. A member of the short-lived Progressive Artists’ Group, Samant exhibited alongside many of India’s leading artists, including FN Souza, SH Raza, and MF Husain. He also showed with the Bombay Group, which included KK Hebbar and KH Ara. In February 1959, a Rockefeller fellowship took him to New York City, where he would remain until 1964. In 1968, Samant, like SH Raza and FN Souza before him, left India permanently. Returning to New York, he turned his attention to his other great passion – music.

Samant’s paintings are a marriage in diverse materials, exploring the boundaries between painting and other disciplines, including sculpture, drawing, and architecture. Unlike the medium-specific practices of the Progressive Group, Samant’s hybrid and playful compositions deploy unusual materials that challenge the distinctions between high and low art, art and craft. Jeffrey Wechsler observed in his essay that ‘Samant’s practice was the antithesis of a signature style. Throughout his career, he delved into divergent materials and techniques and constantly shifted imagery. While some of his processes and forms can be perceived on a regular basis over long periods of time, there was no hewing to a given image, endlessly repeated. He stated that “I find that stagnation in style and the search for the same forms cause an artist to suffer an immense amount of laboriousness in his work.”’

In time, Samant began to incorporate increasingly complex imagery and techniques into his work. Gone were the textured impasto paintings of the previous decade. Samant began to cut into the canvas, folding paper to make dense overlapping constructions that teeter between figuration and abstraction. He began to incorporate hand-twisted wire and readymade toys into assemblages that were painting, relief, sculpture, found object, and wirework construction in equal measure. His inspirations were wide ranging too: from prehistoric cave paintings and Egyptian funerary wall drawings to Indian miniatures and folk art. Samant’s unique approach to the surface of the canvas raised new conceptual questions, prising open psychological and sexual experiences. 

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