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Himmat Shah

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Tracing and underlining Himmat Shah’s contribution to the discourse of modern Indian art, the exhibition presents around 300 works with 215 from the KNMA collection and loans from various public and private institutions and collections. Along with 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 and silver paintings—hardly seen by the Indian art fraternity and public at large.

‘Looking at a seed can you imagine the entire tree? One who can imagine the tree looking at its seed and the seed looking at the tree is a reflection of a true artistic vision’. Himmat Shah 
A hammer (sans the hand) elegantly fixed onto a cube (sans mass). The gravitational connect between the distinct geometries of the two forms catapults one into an arbitration of potentialities created by the artist. Cones, spheres, mounds of various kinds and sizes, anthills, beehives, eye of the mountain, temples and flags, cylinders, birds, real and imaginary animal forms, hollow of the moulds, fossil-like fragments, and so on: the ‘intimate immensity’ of Himmat Shah’s sensual world of forms and mysteries, his marveling at the beauty of the changing form constitutes the exhibition ‘Hammer on the Square’. The experience of walking through the exhibition ‘Hammer on the Square’ is designed like digging through the ephemeral layers of a deposition made over a period of time. From the walls to the floor, the exhibited works unfurl a landscape, cartography, and an individual language of abstraction developed by Himmat Shah in the last six decades, exposing the limitless beauty found in the everyday. Himmat's work combines the abstraction with the local vernacular anecdotes, observations and materials, most times transforming everyday objects into meditative icons with variety of actions performed on and with them. Many of Himmat's early drawings, sculptures and reliefs incorporate a dense clustering of simple geometric forms and mythic and archaic symbols within their surfaces. Himmat’s art presents a coming together of cultures, artistic traditions and contemporary life. Rather than presenting a chronological sequence, the exhibition display takes a nonhierarchical approach to all the works from different stages of Himmat Shah's career, following the continuities and creative flows dictated by his enquiries.

Many chance encounters have informed his artistic sensibility, each instance presenting him with a new material. For example, in early 1960s while sitting in a friend’s office, Himmat playfully burnt a few holes into a paper borrowed from the typist, which led him to work with the fragile and sensuous burnt paper collage forms. The brilliant formal compositions and playful abstraction of the collages are among his early modernist experiments to arrive at pure form. After returning from Paris, Himmat Shah started working on three ambitious brick, cement and concrete high-relief murals on site for the St. Xavier’s Primary School in Ahmedabad in 1968-69, upon an invitation of his architect friend Hasmukh Patel. Created with the intention of igniting the imagination of children, they are a brilliant play of forms, shadows and tactility, formed by most rudimentary geometric shapes and patterns. Till date these high-reliefs are the most ambitious murals relating to architecture in the urban Indian context. His study in Paris in environment and urban design found a strong outlet through these facades designed on a modernist building. He interviewed several masons and carpenters working in Ahmedabad and created a team of the master-workers who assisted him in executing the three murals. Lack of proper machinery and equipment in India led him to develop and improvised new methods for creating the moulds. The exhibition includes four surviving moulds of four sections of one of the three murals, loaned from the acclaimed collection of the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. It is a rare feat to experience his brilliant geometric constructions, simple patterns accentuating qualities of depth and surface.


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