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Man on the Move: Manojit Samanta

“For me Art is a journey both literally and metaphorically.”

Metaphors, poetry, psychology, pseudo-piousness, allegory, commentary, poker-faced dark humour, love, lust, lots of lust, campy, refined, sophisticated, abhorring, lyrical, cynical, clinical, are just some of the words which one can associate with Manojit Samanta’s work. The question for me then is where to begin? Where does his work operate the most within these antagonistic tendencies? Well to put it quite simply, it operates exactly within these antagonisms. Manojit’s works are a reflection, re-interpretation and consolidation of the impact of modernity (in terms of the western idealization) on society. Having regular conversations with him, I realized the sensitivity and wit with which he approaches his work.

Manojit completed his bachelors from the Indian College of Art and Draftsmanship. His works from those days carry a strong ‘academic’ practice. His canvas’s show him romancing lustfully with oil colours. His sensuous choice and application of colour is remarkable. Even during those days of ‘skill development’ one senses a conceptual jostle, which is much beyond the confines of medium specificity. His work ‘Cocktail’, reaches new heights of sensual exploration, which is embedded in the ideas of consumption and exploitation. He deconstructs the seemingly banal and infuses it with satire and allegorical references, which he draws heavily from his bourgeois background. His interest always was to subvert notions of certain culture, class and gender specific practices.

Cocktail

Cocktail

For a more cohesive conceptual growth, he wanted to go to Baroda for his master’s program but due to financial constraints, he took admission at the Government College of Art and Craft at Kolkata. This triggered a need for change in practice and he abandoned (for the time being) use of oils. He took towards more unconventional mediums. HUMAN HAIR! The medium helped him to play with the form and moved away from his existing practice. His work “Jamai Sasthi” is the first work from this phase, which starkly subverts the conventional notions of family relations. It completely ruptures and destabilizes traditional systems with the bag made of hair. Another work titled “Etch Guard Hai Na” depicts an imaginary character with one arm shown as a pasted image of a heavy-duty construction machine. The symbolism is intense and the innuendo is loud and clear. The prominent and inflated sexual organ, the hint of redness near the etch and the pasted arm grapple with ideas of chauvinism, greed and blatant abuse of power in the masks of ‘virility’.

Jamai Sasthi

Jamai Sasthi

Etch Guard Hai Na

Etch Guard Hai Na

These works provided him the much needed experimentation/exploration before he finally returned to the canvas by the end of his M.A. The picture plane is divided into blocks, each forming a micro-narrative. These works resonate the idea of the clusters and clutters of the Chawls. These clusters of micro narratives aide in contextualizing the larger narrative much like the Chawls where privacy is minimal and ‘noise’ punctures and proliferates the setting. He deconstructs the socio-political notions attached with each imagery ultimately subverting those notions. He references socio-political figures, images and characters of famous works of art (primarily from western art-history).

Narrow Pockets

Narrow Pockets

As one sees in his work “Narrow Pockets”, one finds images of Rodin’s “Thinker”, Da Vinci’s “Monalisa” (works considered to be the epitome of artistic achievement) along side poster of the movie Rambo (popular mass oriented film) where the image of Rambo is replaced with that of Goddess Kali (which is entwined in socio-political and religious fabric within the popular culture). Within the same painting one witness’s posters of consumer products like Hajmola, Chutki Pan-Masala, etc. The very specific choice of posters of these products references a post consumption refreshment.  The choice of images resonates with the camp culture of the chawls on one hand and from his art background on the other. Some his other works are titled after famous Bollywood movies like HIMMATWALA and BAAZIGAR. These titles have little to do with the movie itself except for the typography. The titles are used to depict certain practices embedded in our cultural fabric. The work titles act as a satirical comment on those socio-cultural practices.

When asked about his practice he says, “The first thought that approaches my mind while starting on a painting is not that I do not know what to paint, but that I do not know how much to selectively include among these multitudes of surrounding stories and incidents, and what to specifically feature in my works. As a result, in some paintings, numerous narrations and frame-narrations come into the spotlight. Alternately, some works may revolve around a central subject-based narration to accomplish that purpose.”

HIMMATWALA

HIMMATWALA

BAAZIGAR

BAAZIGAR

 

His work as a cartoonist at an illustration firm at Kolkata has immensely influenced his art practice. The routine train trips to office and back exposed him to heavy junk (to be read as verbal and mental), pressure and extremely crowded situations. The work titled ‘MyriadColourz’ portrays the day-to-day train conversations where the topics range from psychology, sex, social and political issues and various related popularly debated topics. The formal treatment of the work is very comical seldom-reminding one of Lichtenstein’s works on one hand and erotic comic strips on the other. Much like his canvases, one sees micro-narrations here. However, unlike his canvases, clustering is done with the helping of cutting and pasting each narrative together giving a sense of relief work. He uses carton board as his surface. The usage of the carton board lends a specific transient sentimentality to the work.

Myriadcolourz

Myriadcolourz

Looking at his body of work one sees a wide range that he has explored. His command over various techniques is impressive. Moreover, in the larger oeuvre of the narrative typology of Indian Art practice his work looks at the bourgeois from the point of view of being a bourgeois himself. However, what impresses the most is his mind. He deconstructs his subject, which ultimately deconstructs his own subjectivity, which puts his work in a constant flux. And, this is where his work operates. In this constant FLUX!!

Text by Satyajit Dave, critic-in-residence, Khoj PEERS 2016