Over the years, Uma Shankar Shah and Seema Sharma Shah have established themselves as Nepal’s foremost printmakers. They will exhibit their recent works in a show titled Sacred Spaces at Delhi’s Triveni Kala Sangam from November 4, presented by Gallery Ganesha. They will be the first time that their works are shown together in India.
While Uma Shankar hails from Janakpur in Nepal, Seema traces her ancestry to Lahore where her grandfather served as the family priest to Maharajah Ranjit Singh’s family.
During the Partition in 1947 her family came to India and settled in Varanasi , which is considered to the holiest of cities for Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims. It was in this city that Uma Shankar and Seema studied together and imbibed the piety of the city that has seeped into their art.
Over the last eighteen years of living in Kathmandu, they have discovered the religious pulse of the city and their paintings seem to be the subconscious merging of their Indo-Nepalese experiences.
Both artists source their inspiration from the rich heritage and culture of Nepal and India; the stories of the Ramayana, and the avatars and pantheon of the gods. Their prints serve as a documentation of the festivals and jatras that breathe life into the cityscape of Kathmandu and Janakpur.
Ramayana is the inspiration for Uma Shankar’s new series of prints.
The artist’s work documents the birth of Sita, the garland ceremony and the mighty bow, her trip to Ayodhya, her subsequent exile to the forest with Lord Rama, her abduction, the search launched for her rescue and the ensuing battle in which Ravana is defeated.
As the artist is from Janakpur, his narrative and imagery are deeply rooted in Mithila tradition and folklore.
Uma Shankar reinterprets the classical Mithila silhouette — with doe-like eyes — to depict his characters. Though the hallmark aura of Uma Shankar’s prints is dark and nocturnal, this series marks a departure as the artist uses a red palette with earth tones to recreate the colours of ancient frescoes where red earth and mud served as natural pigments.
In some prints, the earth tones are evocative of the dust that is generated in the battle in which the epic characters clash.
Uma Shankar portrays Ravana as the traditional firework puppet that is set alight in Dusshera to celebrate the victory of good over evil.
Seema’s new series encompasses deities from the Hindu and Buddhist pantheon. Seema is adept at creating a landscape in which a pantheon of heavenly beings is surreptitiously caught in a mysterious twilight zone. In this series, Seema takes heed of the fact that Nepal is regarded as a tantric shakti sthal or power centre, where the cult of the goddess has lead to the worship of her many manifestations – from a virgin goddess to the wrathful Kali.
The ten avatars of Vishnu are depicted in keeping with the belief that Vishnu’s reincarnations on earth are taken to eradicate evil. As Ram is one of the manifestations of Vishnu, Seema’s work has a spiritual link to her husband’s visual narrative of the Ramayan. Hanuman, the trusted representative and ardent devotee of Lord Ram, finds a special place in the artist’s work as well.
(Poonam Goel is a freelance journalist who contributes articles on visual arts for unboxedwriters.com)