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Maharaja

Panchal Mansaram (b. 1934)1966/1968

Royal Ontario Museum

Royal Ontario Museum
Toronto, Canada

This work combines Indian and Canadian popular imagery in a background of orange, juxtaposing seemingly disconnected elements to comment on contemporary Canadian concerns. It was created as Pierre Trudeau (1919-2000) rose to prominence in Candian politics. He was elected as Prime Minister in 1968 and his outgoing personality captured unprecedented media attention, inspiring "Trudeaumania." To the artist, Trudeau seemed as much like a maharaja as the ones he was familiar with in India. In this work, a large image of Jaipur Maharaja Ram Singh II (1835-1880) is surrounded by newspaper images of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (1919-2000). Collaged in between are reproductions from Indian miniature paintings of female beauties (referencing the harem often associated with maharajas) and actual pages from Indian religious texts covered with hand-written devanagari script. A large red-ink astrological chart covers the upper right of the work, framing Ram Singh's head. These seemingly disparate elements come together through a shared representation through forms of popular culture, mass media, and reproduction technology. There is a visual analogy here between Ram Singh, known as Jaipur's first "modern" Maharaja who was a practicing photographer and understood the power of the camera to manipulate self-image through pose and dress, and Pierre Trudeau, known as the "Father of Modern Canada."

This work reflects the artist's interest in low tech media forms--newspaper print, hand-written texts--and collage. He likens his approach to art-making to jazz music, improvising on an inutitive level between abstraction and realism, colour and monochrome, paint and ephemera.

Panchal Mansaram (P.Mansaram) was born in 1934 in Mt. Abu, Rajasthan, in western India. He studied at the Sir J. J. School of Art, Mumbai and later at the Rijks Academie, Amsterdam. In 1966, he migrated to Canada with his artist wife Tarunika and three-month-old daughter Mila. He formed a friendship with Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan that would last throughout their lives. Mansaram’s series Rear View Mirror, based on McLuhan’s writings, relates the fragmentary experience of contemporary life. It is a perspective through the rear-view mirror of a car: moving forward but with one eye on the past and seeing the world through small fragments akin to contemporary media-saturated culture. Interested in media, daily life, and cultural signs, Mansaram experimented with various techniques from printmaking and painting to photography, textiles, xerox art, and video. The technique of collage pervades much of Mansaram’s work, serving as an artistic approach that mirrored his experience as a diaspora artist. His later work employs computer manipulation to combine different techniques that Mansaram describes by coining the term "mansa-media."

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