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Sharmila Samant

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1967, Maharashtra, India
Lives and works in Mumbai

Sharmila Samant works with a variety of mediums and forms such as installations, performance, and photography. Globalization, identity and consumer culture are issues central to her works. She is one of the founders of a Mumbai- based collective called the Open Circle, which aims to create a platform for meaningful dialogue among artists on an intercultural level addressing contemporary issues. Samant has worked with activist groups and communities engaging in both collaborative and participatory art projects expressing her deep sensitivity towards suppressed and marginalized voices.

Education

1990

Diploma in Interior Design and Decoration, L.S. Raheja College of Architecture, Mumbai

1989

Bachelor of Fine Arts, Sir J.J. School of Arts, Mumbai

VIEW     Selected exhibitions     Text      Videos      Awards      Selected images      View all

LIFE AND WORK

UNDERSTANDING Sharmila Samant

The Open Circle Initiative is both conscientious and radical

The Open Circle was set up in Bombay in the year 1999 by the artist couple, Sharmila Samant and Tushar Joag. With a mission to seek a creative engagement with contemporary political issues through the integration of theory and praxis, Open Circle organized annual workshops, seminars and symposia for artists national and international. Primarily focusing on the social, economic and political issues of the developing nations, the Initiative became a forum to protest against the maladies affecting the common people of society. Founded on the principles of equality and democracy, the Open Circle gave voice to the silent sufferers of the corrupt system. Project Cabin Baggage, India Sabka Youth Festival, Reclaim our Freedom project, the Economic Reforms Program are some of the few enabling and radical actions/ revolts taken against exploitation, illogical violence in the name of religion for vested political interest, consumerism and discrimination of all sorts; which are affecting and infecting the society under the garb of globalization.

Project Cabin Baggage with RAIN partners at the World Social Forum, Mumbai, 2004

Paying tribute to the agrarian crisis in India and to its victims

Resentful of the plague of the farmer suicides in India, the artist creates an installation titled “Against the Grain”. The reason behind these suicides has mainly been the introduction of the genetically engineered seeds and its ramifications. With the collaboration of Devguniya, an indigenous community from Bolangir, the artist asks them to produce snakes. The indigenous community of Devguniya traditionally collect grains and interweaves it with thin, hair like strips of bamboo to form plaits, which are then formed into objects and figures. The deadly venom of the cobra is analogous to the wreaking effects of the genetically engineered seeds that are responsible for the death of farmers. This is suggestive of a huge disparity between the poor farmers who groom the land to earn a living for their families and the mercenary landlords and politicians who are parasites that make a living at the expense of these poor farmers. Thus, Samant explores the power politics or the dirty politics in the domain of the agrarian sector.

Sharmila Samant, Contamination, Part 1, 2008, from “Against the Grain”, C print, 26 x 21.5"

Samant confronts the local-global issue

Sharmila Samant confronts the local-global issue with the flavour of Coca Cola. As we all know, Coca-Cola is not only a popular drink, but also a dominant taste that has colonized the world. After a close study of the taste of “colas” from different countries, Samant not only observes the variegated taste in each drink, but also seeks to burst the myth of the hegemonic flavour crafted by- the multinational agencies that capture the local markets and the advertising agencies that play with the consumer’s psyche. She feels that “the presence of Coca-Cola in fact silences the local tastes by propagating a more or less universal flavour.” She brings to the fore the voices of the silenced local tastes by her own creative intervention through the work titled “Loca Cola”. With help from friends, she collected empty bottles of Coca-Cola and re-filled them with the local tastes of the respective countries, placing them on a hand cart. The cart was taken to public places where the local taste was popularized to a large extent. Thus, in her endeavour of juxtaposing the global taste with the local homemade taste, Samant is able to invert the grand name to accommodate the local in the global.

Sharmila Samant, Loca cola, 2002, installation, dimensions variable

Narmada Bachao Andolan is a movement that has greatly influenced her

Sharmila Samant has been associated with a couple of people’s organizations and people’s movements in India. Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) is one such popular social movement that has deeply affected her. The NBA revolt was carried out against a number of large dams being built across the Narmada River, renowned for its cultural significance. Worried about the kind of disaster the building of the dams would bring about along with a drifting focus and attitude of the people towards the cause, Samant sought to remind and jolt the people of India. The year 2006 saw her three projects- Unfetter the Narmada, Changing Currents and Every One Counts, which became for her forms of protest and resistance. What is a dream that leaves out more than half of its population starving and without livelihoods? She ruptures the myth of “Shining India” in this process and provokes us to think for ourselves- Was the building of dams a political dream or people’s dream?

Sharmila Samant, Unfetter the Narmada, 2006, Installation on road

Samant exposes the hollowness and fraudulence of the political system

Sharmila Samant’s installation and sculptures till date are castigating takes on the effects of globalization, politics and corruption on ordinary people.What is a democratic state that does not permit its citizens freedom of thought and speech? Her artwork Equations uses a glass hammer to symbolize a state of democracy that curbs the fundamental rights of its citizens. A glass hammer is a useless object; where the function of the object is defeated by its inherent attributes. Similarly, a state which is democratic for the sake of its name and fame is as futile and hollow. The hammer, which is also called the gavel represents the entire judiciary system and is emblematic of the power of court and authority of the judiciary. Samant cracks the hollowness of this power and authority by using a glass hammer. In order to unfold the fallacies of a democratic state, she takes up mathematical equations only to give them the form of political equations. The result of all these equations is disaster, chaos and suffering which is very well underlined in Samant’s attempt to highlight the anomalies of the largest democracy.

Sharmila Samant, Equations (Detail), 2011, Installation, dimensions variable

Samant's artistic medium ranges from the use of mundane objects to a revolutionary technology

Sharmila Samant is a multi-media artist-curator and successfully deploys new media for expressing herself through her art form. She conceives a multi- disciplinary approach, such as photography, installation and video that deal with sensitive issues such as globalization, new consumer culture, urbanization etc. She uses these mediums to reach out to the public and express her deep sensitivity towards marginalized voices through the realm of Public Art. Samant says, “What’s unique about video art is that it stretches itself, according to what you’re trying to say.” One of the forerunners of new trend in art, Sharmila consciously combines technology that is backed by thematic content to take art beyond its conventional mediums. Interestingly, she also uses objects such as coca cola crowns to make “A Handmade saree” and wood, perspex mirror and condoms to create “….of Earthly Delight”.

Sharmila Samant, Global Clones, 1998, video projection, 80 x 88 cm

Bibliography