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Under The Vastness Of The Sky

The Bihar Museum in collaboration with Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, inaugurated the first ever retrospective of eminent artist Himmat Shah, in Patna last month. Conceived as an ode to Himmat Shah’s solitary pursuit and inspiring nomadic life lived under an open sky that transformed into a recurrent poetic metaphor of the vastness and infinity of space in his work, the exhibition celebrates his prolific and rich oeuvre which is being presented in the public domain in its entirety.

Himmat Shah, Untitled, 1997, Pen and ink on cardboard, 3.2’’ x 4.7’’. Collection and Image Courtesy of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.
Tracing and underlining Himmat Shah’s contribution to the discourse of modern Indian art, the exhibition, aptly titled under the vastness of the sky, presents around 200 works from the KNMA collection, along with loans from the artist. Besides his famous terracotta sculptures, bronzes, and drawings, it brings to light his lesser-known mediums and extraordinary body of works—high-relief murals, burnt paper collages, prints and silver paintings. The selection spans over almost six decades; starting from his early burnt paper collages that he exhibited in the famous Group 1890 exhibition at Lalit Kala Akademi in 1964 to the few surviving silver paintings that will be exhibited for the first time since 1973. The exhibition showcases a number of seminal terracotta sculptures from his acclaimed Head series to small found objects, vessels and containers that demonstrate the artist's continuous inquiries.

Himmat Shah, Untitled, Burnt Paper Collage, 7’’ x 10.5’’. Collection and Image Courtesy of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.

It includes around 100 drawings, made since 1957, when he was a student at the Fine Arts Faculty in Vadodara. An invaluable record of his journey and observations, the drawings indicate the directions pursued by him, referencing themselves as anchor-points for the entire exhibition. Also presented is a gallery of portraits, bronze heads, projected as preliminary renderings of possible future buildings, and his monumental bronze sculptures.

Himmat Shah, Untitled, POP with enamel paint with silver glazing, 30’’ x 35.5’’. Collection and Image Courtesy of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art.
Himmat's practice combines modern abstraction with the local vernacular anecdotes, observations and materials, most times transforming everyday objects into meditative icons. His art presents a coming together of cultures, artistic traditions and contemporary life. Echoing that, under the vastness of the sky highlights key ideas in Himmat Shah’s works: fragility and transience of existence, the heightened relationship between ephemeral layers and stasis, his intense connect and understanding of the materials and material world, and echoes of lost civilisations and cultures.
 

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