The Gandhian artist, who brought alive folk art in the mainstream

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March 26, On This Day 

He has received awards ranging from the Padma Shri (1989) to the Jawarharlal Nehru Fellowship and the Kala Ratna for his contribution to art. He held solo shows as a painter, explored, researched, taught, established a museum and curated its collection, wrote poetry and prose — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. His rich and adventurous trajectory left behind a legacy that is not just unique, but also revered. 

Haku Vajubhai Shah, who was born on March 26, 1934,  in Gujarat’s Valod, passed away at the age of 85 in just 2019 (March 21). Hailed as from the Baroda Group of artists, the cultural anthropologist brought themes of folk or tribal art to Indian art. 

His mother was deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi and this in turn influenced him. He went on to achieve a Master’s degree in Fine Arts (MFA) from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. Haku Shah was profoundly influenced by the Bhakti movement, especially its Nirguna poetry. 

His peers said of him that he was in direct touch with village craftsmen and had a deep connection with them.  

‘Haku bhai’, as he was called, set up a one-of-its-kind multi-art and crafts complex in Udaipur called Shilpgram, and a tribal museum at Gujarat Vidyapith in Ahmedabad. He was associated with the National Institute of Design right from its inception in the early 1960s. 

In 2009, a decade before his passing, he published his memoirs titled ‘Manush’. 

(Abir Pothi had carried two pieces about Haku Shah in conversation with his son Parthiv Shah here and here, as well as an excerpt from Manush here, published by Rajkamal Prakashan in Hindi, with Parthiv Shah’s permission.)