Namami Gange: Seema Sharma Shah’s homage to the Ganges

Printmaker Seema Sharma Shah's printmaking in the exhibition Namami Gange at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal.
Printmaker Seema Sharma Shah’s printmaking in the exhibition Namami Gange at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Aryan Dimal

“The work you do honestly is your contribution to society,” says printmaker Seema Sharma Shah, who has been consistently creating her printmaking artwork for the past three decades.

She is also an Associate Professor at the Central Department of Fine Arts at Tribhuvan University and is the former Department Head of the Central Department of Fine Arts. She has received her doctorate in Printmaking from Banaras Hindu University, India. Since her involvement in arts education, many Nepali students have honed their skills in printmaking techniques and got their master’s degree in it.

Currently, her 17th solo art exhibition ‘Namami Gange: Homage to the Ganges’ is on display at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal that began on February 13.

In the exhibition, she has worked on two series—the Ghat series and the Deities series—where her Ghat series has been exhibited in Nepal for the first time. Originally from Banaras India, she came to Nepal in 1995 after her marriage with Nepali printmaker Uma Shankar Shah. Since then Nepal has become her home.

Feel the divinity in the exhibition

The exhibition Namami Gange at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber by Printmaker Seema Sharma Shah. Photo: Aryan Dhimal
The exhibition Namami Gange at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal by Printmaker Seema Sharma Shah. Photo: Aryan Dhimal

The exhibition at the gallery is captivating and as you enter it, you can get a feel of divinity as the ghats of Banaras are associated with the divine. Moreover, the size of the artworks in the exhibition gives you the illusion as if you are at the ghats of Banaras at dawn. Her artworks in the ghat series are surreal with the use of the architecture of ghats then her choice of colours and motionlessness, give you the effect of a frozen state.

There are 80 different ghats in Banaras and they are built on the bank of the holy river Ganga. The ghats have religious and architectural importance and are one of the must-visit places in Banaras. For Seema, these ghats are not only the source of divinity or beauty but also the source of fond memories she carries when she used to visit them during her childhood with her mother. Then during her college days when she used to sit in the ghat for drawings and sketches.

The ghat series is her latest artwork. During the Covid-19 pandemic, she was eventually drawn to the images of ghats and her fond memories with her mother and her young days. The darker hues she used in the ghat series symbolise the difficult time during the pandemic.

“Seema’s works are ambitious and powerful for their unrivalled scale and vision,” said Sangeeta Thapa, founder/director of Siddhartha Art Gallery, “In a time where the digital and AI are coming to the forefront, she remains a purist at heart, laboriously etching into the zinc plate by hand, undaunted by new trends, striving to attain the viscosity in each of her etchings-a technique.”

According the Seema, it takes a minimum of two months to four months to etch metal plates step by step to get the desired form and structure and a whole day to make a print.

Inspired by Nepal

Printmaker Seema Sharma Shah at the exhibition Namami Gange at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal.
The exhibition Namami Gange at Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal. Photo: Aryan Dhimal

Different Hindu and Buddhist deities she chose to work with too give you the holy effect. Then, in comparison to ghat series, it is more warm and welcoming. The colour choice too resemble the character of the particular deity gives the same impression. She has used different shades of red to depict Lord Ganesh, Goddess Kumari and Goddess Durga. Likewise, she used hues like orange for Lord Hanuman and blue for Lord Krishna.

Besides the idols of deities found in the temples and monasteries of Nepal and India, she uses images of ancient Nepali and Indian sculpture and architecture, Nepali cultural rituals and Hindu/Buddhist motifs. She combines everything in one single artwork making it unique.

Moreover, her experience and encounter with the different atmospheres of India and Nepal too have ignited the creativity in her works.

“From childhood, I had only seen people worshipping inside temples or in the puja rooms of their houses; it was astonishing to see an entire city in a state of constant worship and festival,” said Seema.

She was fascinated to see the worship of Kumari as a living goddess. “What made me a little dejected was that I was unable to understand the history behind many of the rituals present here,” she added, “The Living Goddess deeply influenced me. It was during Indra Jatra that I felt most overwhelmed by the rituals and felt as if I had been in the presence of Gods. This experience inspired me to portray deities in my works.”

In her deities series, she uses fragments of her early plates to create a unique collage depicting multiple deities, and particular festivals within the framework of a single work where each image has its framework uniting and separating these deities at the same time.

The exhibition continues till March 11.

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Shrestha is a senior sub-editor at Onlinekhabar. Contact her at [email protected].

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