When An­ces­tors Danced

India Today - - LEISURE - —Phal­guni De­sai Mo­han Sa­mant

Nes­tled in a large frame, amidst acrylic, oil, sand and wire are di­nosaur toys rem­nant of Juras­sic Park mer­chan­dise. Of the wide variety of ec­cen­tric­i­ties on dis­play in Jhaveri Con­tem­po­rary’s first Mo­han Sa­mant solo ex­hi­bi­tion (Oc­to­ber 11-Novem­ber 17), this work, called ‘Me­dusa on the Moon’, best cod­i­fies his art.

Play­ful and ir­rev­er­ent, it’s as if the late Sa­mant, once a mem­ber of the Pro­gres­sive Artists Group, de­cided that the his­tory of art doesn’t quite in­clude the his­tory of the world. As cu­ra­tor and cul­tural the­o­rist Ran­jit Hoskote writes in an es­say on the artist, Sa­mant’s work em­bod­ies “those avant-garde pos­si­bil­i­ties… be­tween the 1960s and 1980s that In­dian art did not

ex­plore” oth­er­wise.

The on­go­ing solo show in Mum­bai, ti­tled ‘Masked Dance for the An­ces­tors’, in­cludes 12 works, some on pa­per and oth­ers elab­o­rate ‘3D’ can­vases from 1970-’90s. They’re glimpses of a well-travelled artist who seems in­ter­ested in ev­ery­thing. Sa­mant (1924 – 2004) seems to have been par­tic­u­larly im­pressed by his trav­els to Rome and Egypt in the 1950s, be­fore trav­el­ling to New York for a Rock­e­feller schol­ar­ship which saw him liv­ing in the city till the mid-‘60s. These trav­els and en­gage­ments com­pounded a cul­tured view de­vel­oped by the virtue of grow­ing up in a fam­ily in­volved in mu­si­cal and lit­er­ary pur­suits.

The epony­mous work, ‘Masked Dance for the An­ces­tors’, is a nearly 50’ x 50’ 1994 can­vas fea­tur­ing masks, wire draw­ings and pop­pet-like fig­ures. In it, we see ref­er­ences to Nige­rian kings and African arts and arte­facts, which fea­tured promi­nently in Sa­mant’s col­lec­tion. In ‘Me­dusa on the Moon’, we see ref­er­ences to Greek mythol­ogy mak­ing amends with some­thing older, di­nosaurs. The resid­ual ef­fect be­ing one of ex­treme play, where lay­ers of tech­niques and mean­ings come to­gether in small ex­plo­sions of joy and won­der upon its can­vas.

“I first en­coun­tered Mo­han’s work at the Je­hangir Ni­chol­son Foun­da­tion in 2014, and they left a deep im­pres­sion,” says Priya Jhaveri, who dis­cov­ered that Sa­mant had in­tended some of his work for an ex­hi­bi­tion cel­e­brat­ing 50 years of In­dia’s in­de­pen­dence in 1997. The show never hap­pened and the works re­mained with the Sa­mant fam­ily at the Ruk­mini Mu­seum, Mum­bai. The foun­da­tion pre­sented his work at the Frieze Art Fair in New York ear­lier this year, and Bom­bay was the next log­i­cal step in re­viv­ing his legacy, she says.

1. RE­QUEST TO RE­MAIN VIRGIN

2. BLACK MA­GI­CIAN

3. ME­DUSA ON THE MOON

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