Over the years, Kathmandu-based 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 at the Shridharani Gallery, Triveni Kala Sangam in the capital from 4 to 14 November.
49-year-old Uma Shankar hails from Janakpur in Nepal, 48-year-old Seema 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.
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 year. Both are professors of art at Tribhuwan University, Nepal.Their paintings express 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 jatraswhich breathe life into the cityscape of Kathmandu and Janakpur. 'In fact, our art practice was quite different before we met each other,' reveals Uma Shankar, 'while I used to paint cityscapes and landscapes inspired by the Pagodas of Nepal, Seema was into painting the daily scenes of Indian life. When she came to Kathmandu, she was inspired by the religious pulse of this city. For me, the need to portray peace, and depict the victory of good over evil through the stories of Ramayana happened when Nepal was in turmoil.'
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.
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. 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.