Sharmila Samant

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consumerism, globalisation, identity, labour, neo-colonialism
Visual Arts (installation art, video art)
Europe, Western, Asia, Southern and Central
Netherlands, India
created on:
May 20, 2003
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Sharmila Samant
Sharmila Samant


The mundane and the profane

Indian artist, Sharmila Samant, was born in Mumbai where she currently lives and works. Her work deals with issues of globalisation, identity and consumer culture. She spent four years in Europe from 1998 when she was resident at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam and in London at Gasworks. The experience of transition and being an outsider sharpened her position as an artist who offers a powerful critique on the market forces that define cultural practices of peripheral nations.
´Art to me is the conscience, a kind of awareness and a reflection of my experiences.´

Born in Bombay in 1967, the Indian artist Sharmila Samant lives and works in the city now known as Mumbai. Her fine art education at Sir J.J. School of Art was followed by a diploma in interior design. Samant uses a multi-disciplinary approach, working in photography, installation and video.

Samant’s work deals with issues of identity within a global context, particularly looking at the homogenising effect of commodification in relation to developing economies. She states, ´the projects I undertake involve eclectic collecting, documenting and recycling of urban debris, looking at the mundane and the profane. The works critique the market forces that define the cultural and art practices of the peripheral nations and question how our identities, within the global set up, can be sustained via a hybridisation of our culture.´

Work made for the ‘Sorry for the Inconvenience’ show by Chinese, Indian and Thai artists at Si-am Art Space, Bankok in 2002 illustrates some of the dichotomies that underpin Samant’s approach – fine craft/design work of an artist with a background in interior design in confrontation with a strong critique on issues of globalisation and consumer culture. Samant made ‘Yin and Yang Chairs’, accompanied in the catalogue by a parody of an interiors magazine description, ´this pair of chairs is the embodiment of the two opposing principles. Made for Him and Her in opposing colours. The upholstery made from handspun Jute and Silk and embroidered in contrasting colours. The base exquisitely crafted in Bidri blackend alloy, inlaid with gleaming pristine Silver.´ Alongside, Samant describes her experience of artists residencies abroad, ´characterised as exotic, I try to play interrogator of the processes of appearance – primitive / avant-garde. Consequently I turn the difficulties of cultural exchange into negotiations entrenched in the specificity of an experience, by juxtaposing disparate objects in order to question readings. This creates layers of meaning reflecting my position.´

Between 1998 and 2001, Samant spent much of her time in Europe, with two years as a guest artist at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam and a 4-month residency at Gasworks in London. Samant characterises this period with dry humour, ´I am here now, but I am going home. Most of my work done in the last four years deals with this aspect of transition.´ During her time in London she painstakingly catalogued the dust from under the floorboards left by numerous visiting artists. Incorporated into a duvet sewn by the artist, ´the work stands as a physical manifestation of the now absent past artists – many of whom Samant feels may have craved the symbolised comfort and warmth on arriving in a new and strange environment´ (description in Gasworks residency report).

Since 2001, Sharmila Samant has been selected for a growing number of prestigious international exhibitions. The influential curator Geeta Kapur included Samant in ‘Century City’, the seminal show at Tate Modern in 2001 which propelled several contemporary Mumbai artists onto the international stage, and Kapur again selected Samant for the ‘subTerrain: artworks in the cityfold’ exhibition of contemporary art from India at the House of World Cultures, Berlin in late 2003. In 2003 Samant shows at the Pabellon de Cuba in Vedado, Havana, Cuba as part of the Havana Biennale, curated by Rain. Gavin Jantjes included Samant in ‘From the Seed to the Tree’, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter’s exhibition of contemporary Indian artists in Oslo, Norway in 2003. Samant has also been selected by curators Kathryn Standing (Liverpool Biennale, 2002), Roger McDonald (‘Moving Collection’, Tokyo &d New Zealand, 2002) and Amit Mukhopadhaya in (Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi, 2003). The artist has curated a number of exhibitions herself in Mumbai, mostly in film and video.

An active member of the Mumbai visual arts community, in 1998 Sharmila Samant was a founder of Open Circle Arts, an artists’ initiative which aims to create a platform for a meaningful dialogue among artists in the city on an intercultural level addressing current issues. Transnational workshops and projects are organised through Open Circle.
Author: Judith Staines


Sharmila Samant was born in Bombay in 1967 where she undertook her art education, graduating with a Batchelor of Fine Arts from Sir J.J. School of Fine Arts in 1989, followed by an IDD (Diploma in Interior Design and Decoration) in 1990 from LS Raheja College of Architecture. She currently lives and works in Mumbai where she is active on the arts scene as a founder of the Open Circle artists initiative. She has been selected for important international artists residencies: Gasworks, London in 2001 and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam 1998-00. Her installations and video works deal with issues of identity within a global context and have been included in many major international exhibitions including the influential ‘Century City’ at Tate Modern in 2001.


Open Circle

Production / Performance,
1998 Founder, Member of Open Circle, an artists initiative for the organisation and development of interactive platforms for artists in Mumbai.


Exhibition / Installation,
2003 Co-curator for Indian section ´In Our Times´, Prince of Wales Museum, Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai 2003 ´Video Works´, international show with 10 artists, Gallery Chemould, Mumbai 2002 ´Short and Sweet´, curated Indian section of German Short Film Festival, Mumbai


Exhibition / Installation,
2005 ‘Present Future’ National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai 2005 ‘Mirror Worlds’ Contemporary Video from Asia, ACP,Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, Australia 2005 ‘We are like this only’, Vadera Art Gallery, New Delhi 2005 ‘Rites/ Rights/ Rewrites’ JHF Centre for Interdisciplinary and International Studies, Duke University, USA 2005 Video Art from India, SESC, Pinheiros, Sao Paulo, Brazil 2004 - 2007 ‘Edge of Desire: Recent art in India’, curated by Chaitanya Sambrani,*(traveling exhibition): Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth, (25 Sept 04- 16 Jan 2005); Asia Society Museum, New York, (01 Mar - 30 May 2005); Tamayo Museum, Mexico City: Aug - Oct 2005; Museum of Contemporary, Monterrey Mexico: Nov 2005 - Jan 2006; Asian Art Museum of San Francisco: Mar - Jun 2006; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto: September 2006/January 2007 2004 ‘Crossing Currents’, Indo – Dutch Video Art, Rabindra Bhavan , Delhi 2004 ‘The Werkleitz Biennale: Common Property’, Volkspark, Halle/Saale, Germany 2004 ‘Migrating Identity- Transmission/ Reconstruction’, Arti et Amicitiae, Amsterdam, Netherlands 2004 ‘Rites/ Rights/ Rewrites’, Hartell Galley, Sibley Dome, Cornell University, USA 2004 ‘Indian Video Art’, Fukuoka Museum, Japan 2004 ‘Home With No Walls’, for the World Social Forum, Mumbai 2003 ‘crossing generations: diVERGE, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai 2003 ‘I love My India’, Total Museum, Seoul, Korea 2003 ‘Outside Wall’, public screenings, Lund Art Hall, Lund, Sweden. (India Sabka video compilation) 2003 ‘Sites of Recurrence II’, Boras Konstmuseum, Boras, Sweden 2003 ‘OK. Video’, Jakarta Video Art Festival, 2003, Indonesia 2003 ‘Migration, City, Home’, Birla Art Gallery, Calcutta, Max Muller Bhavan, New Delhi 2003 ‘A/P, Artist proof’, Chemould Art Gallery 2003 ‘From The Seed to the Tree’, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Oslo, Norway 2003 ‘In Our Times’, German and Indian Short Films, Max Muller Bhavan, Mumbai 2003 Pabellon de Cuba, Vedado, Havana Biennale (curated by Rain) 2003 ´subTerrain: artworks in the cityfold´, contemporary art from India, House of World Cultures, Berlin, curator: Geeta Kapur 2003 ´From the Seed to the Tree´, Henie Onstad Kunstsenter, Olso, Norway, curator: Gavin Jantjes 2002 ´Under Construction, Tokyo´, Japan Foundation Forum/Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, curator: Gridthya Gaweewong 2002 ´The Fourth Wall´, Liverpool Biennale, Public Art Development Trust, curator: Kathryn Standing 2002 ´Sorry for the Inconvenience´, Siam Art Space, Bankok 2001 ´Camouflage´, Nehru House, London 2001 ´Rest and Motion´, Klein Karoo National Arts Festival, South Africa 2001 ´AGREES´, Art for Gujarat Relief Economic and Emotional Support, National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai 2001 ´Century City´, Tate Modern, London, curator: Geeta Kapur


Exhibition / Installation,
1999 FIA Gallery, Amsterdam 1994 Alliance Francaise, Chennai 1993 Contemporary Art Gallery, Ahmedabad


2001 Gasworks residency, London
1999 Purchase Committee, Rijksakademie Collection
1998-00 Residency at Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam, NL
1994 Bendre Hussain Scholarship for Sculpture


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Sharmila Samant Residency

(07 January 01 - 10 April 01)


Open Circle

artists initiative in Mumbai
Visiting Cards-I
Shifts (The Shoes Project)
Loca Cola
Dissonant Consumption
A Handmade Saree