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New Delhi: Over the years, Uma Shankar Shah and Seema Sharma Shah have established themselves as Nepal’s foremost printmakers. Both of them will be exhibiting their recent works in a show titled ‘Sacred Spaces’ that has been presented by Gallerie Ganesha. The show will be on at Shridharani Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam, New Delhi from November 4 till November 14, 2014, 11 a.m. till 7 p.m. and will then continue at Gallerie Ganesha, E-557, Greater Kailash II, New Delhi from November 16 till December 2, 2014. Phone @ 29226043.
While 49-year-old Uma Shankar hails from Janakpur in Nepal, 48-year-old Seema (both are professors of art at Tribhuwan University, Nepal) traces her ancestry back 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 – the most holy of cities for Hindu and Buddhist pilgrims alike. It is in this city that both Uma Shankar and Seema pursued studies together and also imbibed the piety of the city which has seeped into their art practice as well. When they married in 1995 and moved to Kathmandu eighteen years ago, their paintings expressed the subconscious merging of their Indo-Nepalese experience. Both artists source their inspiration from the rich heritage and culture of Nepal and India; in the stories of the Ramayana and in the avatars and pantheon of the Gods. Their prints serve as a documentation of the festivals and jatras which breathe life into the cityscape of Kathmandu and Janakpur.
The epic Ramayana is the inspiration for Uma Shankar’s new series of work which includes 4 oil paintings and 13 prints. The artist’s work documents the birth of Sita, the garland ceremony and the mighty bow, her trip to Ayodhya, her subsequent exile into the forest with Lord Rama, her abduction, the search launched for her and the ensuing battle in which the demon Ravana is defeated. As the artist hails 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 of Uma Shankar’s prints have been 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 these 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. Arrows dart across the canvas, the great beasts of war - elephants, horses and chariots - are featured amongst the dead and the wounded. The artist uses ancient slokas from Maithali, Avadhi, Bhojpuri and Sanskrit to reverentially evoke the mood of this great epic.
In 2006, Uma Shankar exhibited his series Shanti Yagna – as a response to the bloodshed in the country. Once again, the artist uses the imagery of the prayer wheel to make an appeal for peace. The iconic Tibetan prayer wheel, is reworked with Mithila folk characters to portray a tragic reality - the land where the Buddha was born is in a state of unrest.
Seema’s new series including 15 prints encompasses deities from the Hindu and Buddhist pantheon. Seema is adept at creating a landscape in which, a pantheon of heavenly beings, are surreptitiously caught in a mysterious twilight zone. The recurring symbol of an open doorway allows you to enter and depart from these surreal dreamscapes. Time stands still here – as no human dwells in these haloed portals. In this series, Seema takes heed of the fact that Nepal has been regarded as a great tantric shakti staal or power centre, where the cult of the Goddess has led to the worship of her many manifestations – from Virgin Goddess to the wrathful Kali. Hence, we find the portrayal of the Kumari, and the Nava Durgas (nine manifestations of the self same Goddess). The ten avatars of Vishnu are also depicted in tune with the belief that Vishnu’s reincarnations 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. The stories of Krishna Leela, the sublime power of the Pancha and Dipankar Buddha are also portrayed in her prints.