Curated by Kamini Sawhney & Jeffrey Wechsler
In collaboration with the Estate of Mohan Samant
Mohan Samant was a prolific artist, who experimented with style, technique, colour and material - he was never afraid to try. When many of his compatriots had stagnated in work that grew out of postcolonial ideologies, Samant had already moved on, experimenting with avant garde possibilities in the 50’s and 60’s that Indian art did not fully explore till the 80’s. Cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote describes him as “the missing link in the evolutionary narrative of contemporary art in India”
This was the first major exhibition after Samant’s death in 2004. It attempted to reveal the complexity and density of this genius' oeuvre. A single work could employ many complicated techniques and the show included a whole range of his work including mixed media, watercolours, oils and elaborate paper cutouts.
Samant’s art reflected the full gamut of historical, spiritual and quotidian experience, so that one day’s theme might illustrate a scene from Hindu scripture and the next day’s subject might be a seaside festival. In his technical experimentation and the range of his subject matter, Samant forged his own path through traditional and modern Indian painting as well as the New York art world. With one foot in the distant past and the other in the contemporary, Samant epitomized the role of the individualist who finds inspiration strewn across the ages and then speaks in a voice that reflects his own time.
Born in Mumbai in 1924, Mohan Samant was an early Indian modernist painter and member of the Progressive Artists Group. He was also a lifelong player of the sarangi, an Indian bowed string instrument. He received his diploma from the Sir J.J. School of Art in 1952, where he studied under Shankar Balwant Palsikar. In 1954 he was awarded the Governor’s Prize and the silver medal for watercolors at the Bombay Art Society Annual Exhibition.
In 1952, Samant joined the Progressive Artists’ Group and exhibited with them in several shows, including the 1953 exhibition, Progressive Artists’ Group: Gaitonde, Raiba, Ara, Hazarnis, Khanna, Husain, Samant, Gade at the Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai. He also participated in the Bombay Group, a successor to the Bombay PAG.
In 1956 Samant was awarded the Gold Medal at the Bombay Art Society’s group exhibition, another at the Calcutta Art Society show, and the Lalit Kala Akademi-All India Award. Samant spent 1957-58 in Rome on a scholarship awarded by the Italian government. In February 1959, a Rockefeller Fellowship took him to New York City, where he would remain until 1964.
From his first showing until 1953, Samant took part in exhibitions around the world, held in galleries and museums in Canada, the United States, England, India and Japan. His work is in such public collections as the Museum of Modern Art (New York,) the Hirshhorn Museum and Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington, D.C.) and the National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi).
Samant spent 1965–68 in Mumbai. During that time his work was still shown in New York, where he was represented by World House Galleries. In 1968, Samant, left India permanently. Samant went back to New York, where he continued to work and to exhibit internationally.
In 2000, Samant received the Asian American Heritage Award for lifetime achievement in the arts. In January 2004, not long after a retrospective in India, he died in New York.