Himmat Shah has been working in terracotta and ceramics for almost ten years. His output in this medium, particularly the celebrated Heads series, has not only attracted the attention of the discerning art public but also influenced a whole generation of sculptors.
Recently, Himmat has been engaged in an entirely different kind of work, on view in the present exhibition. We recognise some of the forms immediately: birds, hills, trees, flags fluttering from temple spires, staircases, bottles, pipes - familiar everyday things. But these contain countless forms within them, and more importantly, beyond our recognition of the commonplace, is how we are led to perceive the complex realm beneath, a revelation which fills us with wonder, and with the urge to plumb the unfathomable depths below the outward form.
Most of these sculptures are enclosed within a circle; within the circle, the vertical is indicative of flight. We also get glimpses of shapes -angular, conical, spiral - which slowly unfold barely perceptible figurations. Space here has not merely been divided by these geometric forms, but rather dynamically energised by them, as though, in cyclical time, molecular life is unveiled. Himmat's approach is that of an artist who not merely 'looks at' things, but perceives them through his imagination. For him everything has the possibility of being transformed into a more intense reality; as though each form were composed of innumerable layers, each a 'word' and with these 'words' a poem were being created in clay. Obviously, Himmat is selective, in the manner of a poet who is fastidious in the use of the appropriate word.
Himmat's eyes fall on things which people throw away. He procures such objects from junk shops. These oddments appeal to him and sometimes find their way into his sculpture after undergoing a transformation. He is also sensitive and alert to all that happens around him.
One day while I was walking with him from his studio at Garhi, he drew my attention to a tree in the park; the base of its trunk was hollow. Children were playing the game of setting up house, peeping into the cavity in which they had placed their dolls and toys, creating for themselves a whole world of the imagination. Himmat found this scene most exciting and full of incredible possibilities. Such seemingly commonplace happenings enrich his art, and link his mind to human existence around him in a profoundly visionary way.
By nature, Himmat is drawn to the inscrutable aspects of life. A hole or dent in his work sets off resonances as in a dark, mysterious well. Is not this a capacity to provide insights into the endless depths of the soul?
In this manner his art reaches out to the environment, to our villages, our ancestral homes, our racial memory. For him, any form, no matter how humble, sets the imagination free. Whether it be a thorny scrub entangled in itself, or a honeycomb, Himmat discerns its beauty and discloses layers of meaning which had remained unknown to us before. These works are not a mere collection of objects; they embody the discovery of the poetic link between them and us, realised through a singularly original form.
Himmat's humble world has place for knoll and mountain and the smallest pebble. The works are small in size, but monumental in the experience they embody. He has woven together the joys, sorrows and tensions of his times into works which are the measure of his humanity.
His works have an architectonic quality, the result of deliberate and careful planning. Each element has its own specific space and cannot be shifted to any other. Himmat once remarked that if you removed a rock from a mountain in order to carve something out of it, that creation would have to contain everything of the mountain. Or else it was futile to have removed the rock from the mountain to which it belonged, in the first place.
Himmat's work is inimitable; it is unmistakably his own, the work of a true artist. He has remained unaffected by the surrounding world of rising commercialism, publicity and fanfare, and has not compromised in the matter of the demands of art. He lives through art, but not in terms of its materialistic worth. He has continued to experiment all along, forever evolving new techniques in a studio which has the atmosphere of a scientific laboratory.
Himmat's close relationship with nature thrills one, in much the same way as one is thrilled by the fluttering of a leaf. And I hope this exhibition of his works will enable viewers to share deeply that primal experience.
Published in Art Heritage 9, 1989-1990