Artists

Published in catalogue for Tribal Ritual and Folk Myth: An Exhibition of the Collections and Work of Haku Shah, 1981.

The most obvious personality trait of Haku Shah is his disarming personality. He is, in this, quite the antithesis of the usual artists or art-scholars who lead to carry their egos around them like enormous rigs, and, in their concern to keep them intact, lose touch with what is around. So, naturally, his awareness of things and receptivity are larger.

But this sympathy of his is, however, deceptive. For a relatively young artist-scholar his performance is creditable. He is a painter of considerable individuality. He is a keen and perceptive student of rural arts. The few publications on rural art and craft that he has co-authored with Dr. Eberhard Fischer are remarkable in their line and are thought well of by artists, designers and scholars all over the world. He has travelled around and seen the world and has made a whole network of friends amongst scholars, artists and craftsmen. With his moving eye and perceptive ear he has noticed various cultural facts others have readily missed and has, therefore, acquired a larger insight into the activities he has studied. So in the field of rural and tribal arts his advice is valued by even confirmed professionals.

But he keeps this all hidden under his transparent smile. This is partly because his aspirations are not strictly professional. He is in this field not by accident but by vocation. He was initially trained to be a painter. He graduated with a M. A. (Fine) degree from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda, over fifteen years ago. He came from a village in south Gujarat which had an active youth movement, at least at the time he was young, which tried to keep the village life active and tried to get village communities, including the tribals, into human relationships. This background had a lasting influence on him. Throughout his development a kind of loyalty to rural life, to rural values, to rural thought and communication patterns, rural arts and crafts has persisted with him. He is specially attracted by the ways their apparent simplicities have given rise to astounding refinements in quality in all these spheres. This shows in his painting. This shows in his ever-deepening interest in collecting rural art objects and documenting their techniques and functional background and encouraging their practice wherever feasible, moving from object to technique, technique to function, function to concept, and concept to background lore and beliefs.

This kind of interest is rare anywhere in the world. It is true that in the last two decades the interest in craft techniques has enlarged and accelerated, especially with the growth of a global artist-craftsman’s movement. This is certainly a healthy development. But a large part of this interest is romantic, a momentary turning away from the faceless technology of a modern industrial system to the personalised skills of a primitive society. A considerable out-crop of a forced, and faddish, technical naivete that has resulted from this is symptomatic of this romanticism. Haku’s interest is larger and deeper. His major concern is the identification of the various feeder strands of a craft form or system- the personal and societal imperatives, and the thoughts, notions, skills and sensibilities of the people. This identification clarifies the functional anatomy of the whole system and, through this, the possibility or otherwise of its survival. His documentation with Dr. Fischer of the rural craft expertise can eventually bank up into a cultural thesaurus and be found invaluable by creative men all over the world, in case there is a possible obsolescence of all such skills under economic pressure, though one would fondly hope that the world does not slide down too quickly towards such cultural desolation.

In short, his empathy with the rural people, his sympathetic curiosity about their institutions, his sensitive taste in the collection of the right craft objects in preference to the obvious ones, his deep interest in their fabricational expertise all these make Haku’s collections and documentations of singular aesthetic and educational value; they delight the eye and enrich the mind, at the same time.

Published in catalogue for Tribal Ritual and Folk Myth: An Exhibition of the Collections and Work of Haku Shah, 1981.

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