For Nepalese artist Uma Shankar Shah, trains of the bygone era, Hindu deities and popular Bollywood posters, are all grist to the artist’s mill. When it comes to trains, Shah looks beyond the role that they played in strengthening the trade ties and improving socio-cultural relationships between India and Nepal. For Shah, trains — especially the steam-driven ones — evokes reminisces of childhood which inspires him to paint them on his canvas.
51-year-old artist who is also a Fine Arts Lecturer at Tribhuwan University says, “Nepalese have been astonished by trains ever since they were introduced in India by the British and it became a symbol of a search for a new life in the hearts of Nepalese people.”
Shah’s exhibition will present paintings and etchings and he will be exhibiting an 18-feet long, three-dimensional train installation —done with fibre and metal which with its roof and compartments, platform and human figures — which will bring alive the whole rail experience for the viewers.
“I was fascinated by trains as a kid and every day I would go to the railway station to watch the trains pass by,” shares Shah, who was born in Janakpur. “My happiness had no limits, if I ever had the opportunity to touch those trains. In the 40 years that I have grown up with these trains, I have developed a sense of empathy with them where it feels as if I understand the moods of happiness, sadness, uselessness, loneliness of these machines and this is what I have presented in these works,” he adds.
Speaking of his title work Roti-Beti, Shah says that the work depicts the twin inspiration of the show. First one being that the trains provide many people their livelihood (Roti) and second is the fact that many Indian women after marriage migrated to Nepal (Beti). In fact, by portraying many such women at railway stations, replete in their marriage finery, he also wants to bring to notice the lack of their political rights in Nepal (Naturalised Citizen is one such work). Shah’s wife Seema, who is also an artist hails from Benaras.
In other works as well, like Railway Station of Janakpur, Nepal Janakpur Jainagar Railway (NJJR), Sita-Ram (Sita was from Mithila, Ram from India) and Mahabir, he depicts these trains in their full glory.
Bollywood film posters too, finds space on his canvas — another symbol of his childhood memories. “The cinema hall in Janakpur had just started and the first place these posters were put up was at the railway station. I was fascinated with these posters. Actors like Nargis, Manoj Kumar, Madhubala were my favourite,” he says. Shah also depicts a lot of Hindu deities in his work.
Apart from depicting trains, Shah has also done a series of paintings depicting the beautiful landscape of Nepal. Titled Cityscapes, Shah turned to this series in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake. “I had been working on trains since 2014 but when the quake happened, I was compelled to pay homage to my beautiful country.” Works like Green Buddha and Shanti Yagya are to depict Shah’s hope for eternal happiness for his beloved nation.
His first solo show in Delhi, titled ROTI- BETI, will be held at Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi from April 18 to April 24.