The city is not always a city with a name. Not a specific place, with no baggage of history, no structure or character that you can love. It is neutral, an assemblage of buildings, spaces and spirits. It has no people, no memory, only an uncanny ability to brutalize, a physicality and complexity that can sensitize all beings to the shadow. It engages you in a dialogue, even if you don’t want to enter. Its vibrancy is seductive, the city is very amenable to commodification, to transaction to possession in pieces. It is also a place of immense sadness.
The city is also a collaged construct of objects, materials, light, shadow and other energies. The multi-layered materiality and the mangled vibrations traverse the city skies to permeate the psyche and create a buzz in seamless flow that takes you in. The vision is at once grounded and hyper real.
Not unlike a humongous installation of disparate worlds, the city is an illegible entity that we willingly enter and inhabit. When the city’s multiple folds are lit, splendorous decay and squalorous life mingle in a movement that only the poet’s eye can map. Samit Das had taken refuge under these folds a decade ago moving from shadow to shadow with a magnificent obsession of the dark comforts they offer.
In a deft reductionist move he expels colour from the cityscape and invests it with the nuanced tonalities of the cerebral world of black. The patina of time surfaces from within to reveal the distraught emotional state of the walls, dark recesses and the stranded architectonic elements of the urban object. There are no living beings present to infuse the image with the present. Time collapses in an unfamiliar simultaneity. The city was abandoned by its inhabitants leaving behind immense historical experiences. Or is it the prophetic future of a cruel city that would forcibly evict its citizens to return to a preordained state of melancholia? The ambiguity is palpable.
The physical structure of the city and its appearances are captured in perspective of time that is morphed into distances to bring into the fore, the deep structure, the complex morphology of emotional cross currents that animate the physical.
As detail, the geometricised elements of architecture and the mathematics of its component-structure relationships, become instruments to explore the reconfiguration of the urban object in the hands of Samit Das. His early forays into photography had as subject the harsh surfaces of exposed concrete that exteriorize the Brutalism of Chandigarh’s emotionally disjunctive monuments to democracy. Those dry shadows that were born of Le Corbusier’s lyricism have now broken into sweat in Samit’s current work, pulsating with inversed humanism. Through the hyper vision of the everyday, the current work revisits architecture and as extended perspectives, the city with the imprint of many memories. The emergence of transparent, organic tints of the pained surface of the city from behind the stoic neutrality of grey/black tonalities, or the depiction of the unfathomable depths of vertical drop coupled with light that strikes like lightning on the horizontal surface of the city, at once inhuman, sans any sign of life. A highway that is bereft of any relationship to people or to the automobile is indeed the prophetic allusion to an inevitable future of the dehumanized, unsustainable city. The highway is lightning here that strikes at infinity.
The city is also a violently contested site. In a disturbing allegory, a violent carnage in the street that is scattered with the blood of victims of mass murder, rape, mutilations that happened overnight, the low angle morning photograph of a terrace strewn with flesh coloured quilts with wrapped up anatomies lie limp. A man stares stoically from a distance at the camera. The view is of the migrant who sought the autonomous self warmth within the quilt, lost in the private dream space. The interiority of this image is inverted to the limp carcasses lying on a public street. It is only coldly stared at in the city. The transformation of the image of the morning sun bathing a terrace in yellow light to a riot-torn street, instantaneously speak of a humanism informed by deep political sensibilities. In the rare use of colour is the corporal exposure of the open wound inflicted on the city.
The tantalizing geometric realities of brick, mortar and bitumen, the transparent toxic orange gas that hovers menacingly over the city, the tactile, hurt surfaces of vertical walls, the dialectics of deep recesses and the greedy skyline, the pervasive meandering shadows seamlessly cemented by intermittent illuminations, the sensual foregrounding of galloping domes, the contestations and violent confrontations in the public space that is left behind by the mob that has moved on. The images are real, the immensity of it all are collaged into frames as tales told by a supple brush and other glutinous substances with a disturbing distance. To delight in this interplay is the nature of the city.
From the exhibition catalogue published by Anant Art Gallery (2007).