The Artistry Of Kamal Shah

The warm terracotta of the Norfolk Towers stairwell was welcoming as I traipsed up to access the swanky apartments on the ground floor. The sun filtered into the circular exterior.  The door opened and Kamal smiled widely, the scent of vetiver wafted through and I was greeted with a bear hug. I was visiting with Nawaz, who was to be my husband some years later, and early in our relationship, Nawaz wanted me to meet Kamal, his very close confidante and bestie!

It was the beginning of a new friendship, one that has endured and matured over the decades. Kamal’s apartment was perfectly curated with his unique and beautiful art. His space welcomed you in. The positioning of all the discerning pieces in the room, lots of wood, walls painted in different colours and all aesthetically most pleasing. In every abode Kamal lived in thereafter, the interiors are earthy, clever, bedecked with carefully chosen pieces of furniture made locally. Being in the right circles, he had unique furniture and sculptures made by other artists. I was always sensorially touched by this placing of objects, colour and texture. As an environmentalist, I was particularly attuned to the fact that the ecosystem he creates feels harmonious, even tactile, connected to the sea, the forest. Another reason why one feels balanced and connected in the spaces he orchestrates.

He was wearing a beige shirt with a cool motif that he had of course designed and screen printed onto the material.  Kamal is known for his art-work, but his repertoire with different media is prolific; his creativity extends to many surfaces. When I was later to go to University, Kamal armed me with packs of primary colour postcards, with the abstract image of a lady resplendent and in a headscarf; to entice fellow students who wished to write home. The coins I made from those postcards were precious and not needless to say, some of the cool rubbed off on me as the purveyor of these unique goods!

The generosity and kindness that is innate in Kamal was extended to me and when Nawaz and I had children, to them in enormous amounts. The children are bestowed with unusual and pulchritudinous gifts, but much more than that, he loves to spend oodles of time with them. Either individually or all together and as they grew up, they were allowed to access the inner sanctum of his studio and get to paint with him. They absolutely loved it. We have batches of various canvas from these budding artists aged between one and twelve! He showed them techniques and explained how different media could be used. He gave them access to his paints and canvas, what a privilege! My kids do understand that this was a privilege. Their relationship with Kamal is special, he has been there for them since the day they began their earthly existence.

It was Nairobi, in the late 80s. Kamal had people he hung out with from all walks of life, budding artists, gallery owners, industrialists and creative people from all domains. He introduced us to stars, charismatic folks who attended his art shows, people who bought his art-work and were friends.  He helped to encourage the local art scene and was always having a tea with this or that budding artist. The friendships extended outward and beyond.   Kamal visits our families. He brings ganthias, jhelebi, Mysore sandal wood soap for my Father. His visits to India would be celebrated with returns of a new and curative medicinal miracle for us.

Kamal is gregarious and quick in laughter.  A full-throated hearty laugh. He finds joy in the peculiar. He recognizes the odd forms and the hidden and brings it out for us to appreciate.  Kamal is present for his family and engages with no false sentimentality. He is a primary care giver to Ba, his mum. She is a strong woman, and she and Kamal’s sister have treated us to all sort of delectable and delicious vegetarian food, wholesome, fresh, and good for us and good for the planet.  We celebrate Diwali, Eid, and Christmas and whatever else brings people together as the world around us grows more divisive.

After his exhibitions and shows in Bombay, Copenhagen, London, or Goa he would share plummy discoveries that his discerning eye picked out of, simplicity and elegance were the hallmark.

The twinkling eyes belie a keen and straightforward approach. You may not agree, but I feel that this is also manifest in his paintings, the way shades are presented and coalesce and the manner in which the lines are so clearly delineated.

It is almost unfathomable that the inequalities and injustices we see due to race and class continue to persist, but tide against these infractions are rising. All those many years ago, I took for granted the courage Kamal had and has to break across the stereotypes, become an artist and spawn a diverse community that considers otherness and savours inclusivity and creativity.


  • Has worked on environment and development issues for the past 25 years, the last 12 working across the nexus of forest protection and the climate change crisis.

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