Creativity ends when calculation begins: Sanjana Shah, creative director, Tao Art Gallery

By Asha Chowdary|25th Oct 2020
The Proust Questionnaire is a questionnaire about one’s personality. It has its origins in a parlour game popularised by Marcel Proust, the French essayist, who believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature.
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Sanjana Shah is the creative director of Tao Art Gallery, which is an established cultural hub of Indian art in Mumbai for the last twenty years. In this role, she co-curates exhibitions, writes concept notes, ideates on new potential collaborations, and manages the gallery’s brand image and sales. She also works as an independent Art Curator and Consultant both in India and internationally.

As an extension of her role as an Art Consultant, she works part-time in her family company, Group Satellite. She oversees the interiors and aesthetics and engages with clients and interior designers for art sales post-completion.

Sanjana also founded the #EducateForArt series at Tao. Her aim is to conserve the rich heritage of global art and enable audiences to explore its wonders in a truly experiential manner. The series hosts workshops for kids and adults which promote Art Appreciation, Art History and Art Knowledge.

Here are her responses to our Proust questionnaire…


What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My idea of perfect happiness is anything that can translate into true peace. It is a state when I don’t think about what has been or what will, but just that moment is enough.

What is your greatest fear?

I have two great fears, the fear of deep water and the fear of being alone.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Self-doubt, anxiety, and overthinking.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Pessimism and self-pity.

Which living person do you most admire?

My mother. She is a woman who has in every way, won life’s battles. Among celebrities, I would choose Amal Clooney, because she is the epitome of the balanced woman.  

What is your greatest extravagance?

Travel. I like to travel a lot and travel well.

What is your current state of mind?

Passionate, patient, and positive.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Self-sacrifice.

On what occasion do you lie?

When I know it will hurt somebody else unnecessarily.

What do you most dislike about your appearance?

Not much really feature-wise, but I do have a really bad metabolism, so my body is definitely more high maintenance than it should be!

Which living person do you most despise?

Nobody really. I have phases of despising people and that is usually for serious reasons. But I tend to forgive easily.

What is the quality you most like in a man?

Humility.

What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Confidence.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

I keep saying the phrase ‘fair enough’ when I want to end a conversation or debate neutrally. I am non-confrontational by nature hence try and see most arguments from both perspectives in a balanced manner.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

There isn’t a ‘who’ yet so I shall stick to the ‘what’, but I don’t have just one, I have three great loves – food, music, and writing (in that order).

Which talent would you most like to have?

I would love to be able to play an instrument. I love to sing and have trained in singing but for the life of me, I have never been able to learn how to play any instrument.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I would like a better balance between my emotional and practical side. I am by nature very sensitive and emotional which at times can be a weakness.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I was obese in my early teens. I lost 27 kgs at the age of 16. That and maintaining a conscious lifestyle then onwards is definitely my greatest achievement.

If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

I would come back as a human rather than anything else. I also do like being a woman, so I would be very happy to be born a woman again!

Where would you most like to live?

Outside of Bombay, definitely London! It’s like a second home for me.

What is your most treasured possession?

My most treasured possession is a memory box of collectibles from over the years, comprising letters, small gifts, or memoirs from people. Whatever is in that box forms the major chunk of memories over 25 years.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

The feeling that nobody is being able to understand what you’re trying to say even when you put in so much effort to explain it!

What is your favourite occupation?

My current occupation! Curation. I would be happy to expand that though, from art curation to curating other elements of lifestyle and culture. I have an interest in history, literature, fashion and believe that all the social sciences and arts are intrinsically linked!

What is your most marked characteristic?

Externally, my nose (it apparently has a personality of its own). Internally, I would say my ability to perceive and empathise with people.

What do you most value in your friends?

Acceptance without judgment and loyalty.

Who are your favourite writers?

First and foremost, J.K. Rowling because my childhood would be absolutely incomplete without Harry Potter! Sarah Dunant and Michelle Moran for historical fiction, Alain De Botton for lifestyle and sociology and Yuval Noah Harari for non-fiction anthropology and history. 

Who is your hero of fiction?

I am a huge fan of Aragorn from Lord of the Rings! He has fit my ultimate hero ideal since my childhood.

Which historical figure do you most identify with?

Nefertiti, one of the iconic queens of Egypt who unfortunately keeps getting overshadowed by Cleopatra, but was in her own right an inspirational ruler!

Who are your heroes in real life?

My family – mother, father, and brother because in their own ways they have handled a lot of the toughest times that life has thrown at them.

What is your favourite name?

I really like my own name even though it is quite common. I like it because Sanjana means creator. But another name I came across in Urdu, which I loved, was Seher, which means dawn.

What is it that you most dislike?

I don’t like inconsistency. In all my relationships, personal or professional, I need to know that you will show up when needed and as promised.

What is your greatest regret?

Hating my younger self for reasons that I now realise were wrong and misplaced.

How would you like to die?

Two options – in my sleep or just after doing something I loved (like a great show, a great meal or a great experience).

What is your favourite journey?

Well, I will be a bit clichéd and say the internal one. I am very spiritual and do believe we have a lot to traverse within us that no amount of physical travel can satisfy!

What is your motto?

What my mom once said - creativity ends when calculation begins.


Edited by Megha Reddy

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