Himmat Shah, Part 2: The Ceramic Yogi

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'Hammer on the Square' by Himmat Shah | Image courtesy: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi

Continued from Part 1

“Look at people today — how they have become obsessed with their own body. How strange it seems that everyone wants to become body-less without understanding the body, dream of freedom without knowing boundation. It seems that everything is floating in thin air; the journey-nobody wants to embark on that process, reaching the destination is everybody seems to be after now. The journey should be the destination, but everyone is in searching for their own tiny little corner — nobody wants to wander and explore; everyone wants to go out after having deciding the destination and path — how very strange this seems,” Himmat Shah used to hold discussions pertaining to many such matters with his teacher (and renowned artist) NS Bendre, in Baroda.

The artist in a contemplative mood | Photo courtesy: Ravi Shekhar

According to Himmat, both the form and thematic of sculpture elicit elaborate as well as astonishing perspectives of human creative thought. Herein, the fluttering of both the abstract and figurative streams are together heard in the form of sound in every notch of the chisel hammer, where the visual and performative arts are well felt in their interweaving with each other. If seen in the larger context, the poetics of sculpture is highly interesting among the visual arts, since despite being an integral part of architecture it has managed to carve out and maintain its own distinct identity. Surely it lies between sky and ground — a space that could be called a meeting point, which continues to convey the unceasing rhythm of art and aesthetics. Every work of art is a detailed account of his journey, as well as part of what has been shaping his journey. It is part of a ceaselessly continuing process, observing which in different ways is learning it in different styles. Surely this is possible only after transcending the individual surface.

“Today, neither the passion for seeing nor the discipline of seeing is to be seen anywhere. Maybe we are forgetting the value of seeing. Our preconceived notions are very heavy. Everything is done with an already-filled mind, and then creativity is expected — if this isn’t hypocrisy, then what else should we call it? To get free of all notions and then see an object is to see it deeply. One will have to break down all masks and then view the object, perhaps then something new will be possible. When some fog is cleared, then something new will actually become possible. Actually, we have structured ourselves excessively, and have ended up surrounding ourselves with too many distractions. To get free from those distractions is what art is all about; to break all boundations one by one — this is what art is. To attain freedom through fearlessness is what art is; to chisel oneself through injury, underlies the essence sculpture.” Himmat Shah’s metal sculpture, ‘Hammer on the Square’ conveys these ideas upon each viewing.

Himmat Shah admiring a sculpture from ancient India at the Bihar Museum | Photo courtesy: Ravi Shekhar

“The clay finds its centre on the pottery wheel, and when it starts rising upon finding its centre, its ego could be seen settling down slowly. This life works in a similar manner, which we can see improving and building upon layer by layer, provided that we realise our centre and get integrated with it. The entire struggle is actually that of being one with and moving as per the rhythm naturally dictated by one’s centre. A much better metaphor for life is that of searching, compared to knowing and learning — the real practice actually lies in searching! Matter was heavily explored in the form of knowledge in this country — in this regard, I am reminded of my ancestors, who once belonged to the Bhinmal region of Rajasthan; some of them were Jain sages as well. Perhaps their search gets transmuted into my excavation, which is progressively progressive. There is always the feeling of uncertainty underlying the search for anything through the arts, and the clouds of doubt are ever-present — a state between being and non-being, where a certain kind of unknown dread, that is, fear, is present. But this state is also the greatest wonder of the world — it is perhaps only from here that some new discovery begins. The nature of that discovery also seems incomplete without uncertainty, without which life has no meaning.” Knowingly or unknowingly, Himmat Shah’s entire life as well as art could be seen as coming face to face with that thrill of uncertainty. “For any true artist, it is nothing less than a boon to be one with that uncertainty, one has to undergo thousands of injuries in a single lifetime, and the one who overcomes them is the one who thrives in this world. So we should contemplate this fuzzy state of uncertainty and doubt, since this contemplation is a movement inside oneself towards the abstract. Abstraction doesn’t merely lie in a sculpture, painting or a poem; it can be lucidly seen all around in Nature. Subject, thought and object — in all of these, the whole of life could be found illuminated with these abstractions.” 

Continued in Part 3.