Presented in collaboration with Clark House Initiative, “Bibliography in Progress” is Samit Das’ first solo exhibition in Mumbai after a ten-year hiatus. His works in this show and his practice at large find their core in the archive.
At TARQ, Das’ series assimilates the idea of pre-modernism through contemporary practice with a unique visual language. His multimedia works on board are meticulous in their attention to detail, and their sculptural quality combines a variety of materials (iron, paint, archival images, found objects and wood) to create a stunning culmination of the various threads of his practice. The complex, layered works combine ideas of archeology, ethnography, legend and materiality, ultimately looking at the notion of how the archive interacts with space. While the series is tied together by the artist’s practice, Das is reluctant to ascribe a particular narrative to every piece.
At Clark House Initiative, Das’ drawings and photographs further explore pre-modernist sculpture from the Indus Valley Civilization and Buddhist tradition, elaborating on the dialogue begun at the exhibition at TARQ. An excerpt from the curatorial essay “A Material Turn in History & Aesthetics – the Art of Samit Das”
Samit Das is an artist, historian and archivist who weaves history irreverently with scholastic reasons to do so. Visual Art does not intervene in history in times where referential practice is reverential to other histories as source material to concept. But how can we chart a history of the modern and the conceptual based on our own mitigations of materiality, perceptions of space and colour ,and thus make forms that narrate our idea of climate and time.
Samit Das's studio sits on the border where Delhi's urban sprawl spreads across into the hinterland. Here the space comes in irregular use, reminding us of what Delhi might have been. Villages suddenly take on many stories to home tenants, fields turn into handicraft factories and well paved highway lead to dusty roads. From his home in a Delhi Development Authority (Affordable State Housing Scheme) flat to his studio that stands in the National Capital Region but outside the borders of the state of Delhi, Samit Das treads a conceptual path of aesthetics. These outskirts hold many artist studios many who hold the moniker of being factories. Samit Das has a set of the most sophisticated tools and machinery that could be used to saw, stitch, glue, nail and build art works he makes out of material one would imagine arrive out of the detritus that artists’ studios create. In fact wood, Xerox papers, watercolours, inks and canvases arrive to create these assemblages. From these sculptural reliefs he builds canvases that might be walls that are created out of layers of construction. Architecture in India follows whims, influences, trends and ease of material, thus skylines do not usually contain aesthetic landmarks but instead triple layered cakes of competing aesthetics. Much like Santiniketan; from where Das graduated to become an artist; however appealing it looks with the nostalgia we attach to the space, the aesthetic approach to space and design is an assemblage of influence, utility and philosophy. How we uncover these archaeologies of aesthetics depends on the narratives we imagine of our personal art histories. I for example have deep convictions in the conceptual ability of the modernism that developed at Santiniketan through a nationalist urge to forge an indigenous aesthetic.
Samit Das graduated from Santiniketan and he provides an oeuvre of works that he began with experimentation in photocopies and now exists as sculptures. This journey is not surprising but one that is expected when we observe his interests. Holding the most extensive archive on Santiniketan and being one of the foremost scholars on the histories of art from South Asia, Das’ art practice conceptually lies with these histories of exchange between these material mediums. His solo exhibition thus amalgamates this possibility without rarefying the materiality or the form as a commodity. Layers engulf you with forms that draw you into watercolours that flow from the hands of Ajanta.
Sumesh Sharma Fort Cochin, 2017