Under the Mask | Book Review
It is probably apocryphal to refer to the pandemic as just an ‘epochal’ event now, considering just how many lives it touched and changed forever. While the overwhelming majority of the emotions related to the event are tragic, the lockdown was also a time for peace and reflection, as we were faced with the reality of our fragile mortality. Himmat Shah is an artist who understands this very human conundrum, where our place at the top of the hierarchy is threatened only by our own actions and inactions. ‘Under the Mask’ is a look at this, what the great writer Sadat Hassan Manto called a “reflection of our own society”. So what does Shah show us under that mask he refers to? The giant collection, intimidating for a newcomer, soothes you with the token of a real surgical mask placed on its cover. The mask is a symbol of our times, that instead of our own roaring 20s, we were faced with the prospect of being faceless strangers in a sea of paranoia.
This paranoia is deeply reflected in the strokes of Shah’s artwork. Himmat Shah created each artwork during the pandemic, and we join him in how he viewed this massive tragedy. Each piece of art, produced solely with ink on paper, reflects not only the grief we all felt, but also the hope and will to continue. The white cover represents purity, and the edges are painted in blue, symbolising the safety and protection that a mask provides to us. The abstract paintings convey deep meaning, each one being a meditation on death, survival and continuation. Under the Mask is a great gift to a generation going through immense trauma, unmoved by tragedy and with smiles under their masks.