Haku Shah is one of India's most renowned artist-scholars and a Padma Shri awardee. He is a figurative painter of the Baroda School and an authority on folk and tribal art. Culture, cultural roots of the family and the prevailing social, spiritual environment around were sources of major influences on Haku's life. Since early childhood Hakubhai was interested in painting, music, poetry, drama etc. He made wall painting for mass awakening and even helped to stage an exhibition of painting, depicting the exploitation in the society, which toured many villages. He strongly holds that art exists where life throbs and thrives. It's no surprise that the natural simplicity and spontaneity of rural life fascinates him.
While teaching at the Gandhi Ashram in Gujarat, Haku Shah came in contact with the Rani Paraj tribe. He recognized the magical quality of the Rani Paraj images and collected many of them. Later, a stint at the National Institute of Design, Ahmeadabad provided an impetus to his mission of discovering tribal rituals, culture and their way of life. The Nehru Fellowship further enabled him to devote to the task.
He was also invited by Stella Kramrisch to assist her in the presenting of an exhibition - 'Ritual Art in Tribe and Village'- Art of the Unknown India in the US' that acted as window for the people in the US to peep into the fascinating world of traditional Indian art and craft. He carried with him wonderful figurines of clay for the exhibition, many of which form a part of Kramrisch's legacy to the Philadelphia Museum of art. He later set up a folk art Museum in Ahmedabad and has also conceived and designed a multi art and crafts complex at Udaipur called Shilpgram.
Hakubhai has published several books on traditional Indian pottery. He is the curator of the Museum for Tribal Cultures at the Gujarat Vidhyapeth (University), and a consultant of the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. He has also been associated with the Museum of Mankind, London; the Tropical Museum, Amsterdam; and the Mingi International Museum of World Folk Art in San Diego, California.
Haku Shah is a painter of considerable individuality. His works may depict a ubiquitous blue shepherd with a staff across his shoulders, but that could be a Fulani of West Africa, a Masai of Kenya, a herdsman of Persia or Afghanistan. That's exactly why Haku Shah is known to be a "global" artist with a rural Indian touch. His simple images of trees, cows and flutes reflect his close relation to tribal art and associate them with a world that knows no boundaries. He makes the images look so simple that a viewer may indeed be fooled into believing so, but the layers of thought processes beneath tale a different tale. His paintings reflect the apparent simplicities of rural life, which have given rise to astounding refinements in quality in all spheres. In the apparent flatness of pictorial space in Haku Shah's paintings, it is not merely the integration of the tribal conventions into the practices of the present.
He possesses an ever deepening interest in collecting 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.
Haku Shah a painter, writer, educationist, teacher and anthropologist, all rolled in one.