Art be­hind bars: What Tihar draws

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - - Front Page -

LIFE SKETCH Tihar Art School in­side jail no. 4 is a plush place with class­rooms with pro­jec­tors, work­shop rooms, a sculp­ture stu­dio, a gallery with track light­ing, a foyer and a lawn in front

can­vases and sheets of pa­per. Many of them are draw­ing fig­ures of Gandhi.

Their paint­ings done in dif­fer­ent medi­ums—oil, acrylic, wa­ter paint— deal with myr­iad themes: streetscapes, metro trains, por­traits of women, the ghats of Ba­naras, land­scapes.

And there are lots of Bud­dhas. “Paint­ing the Bud­dha gives me peace of mind,” says Arun Ku­mar, an un­der­trial fac­ing da­coity charges. “Ever since I took up the paint and brush, I for­got the empti­ness in my life here, the pain of liv­ing away from my dear and near ones.”

The idea be­hind the art school, says Ra­jesh Chauhan, su­per­in­ten­dent, jail num­ber 4, is to help in­mates use their time con­struc­tively. It is also, he points out, a part of their re­for­ma­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. “Those who have joined art school are no more an­gry, no longer pick fights. Paint­ing has a cathar­tic ef­fect on them. Jail can be es­pe­cially tough for those who know they are ac­cused of a crime they did not com­mit,” says Chauhan. “Art helps them cope.”

Most of the 2,800 pris­on­ers in jail num­ber 4 are un­der­tri­als with var­ied back­grounds and 100 of them at­tend the art school, spend­ing six to eight hours ev­ery day. Many art­works of in­mates stand out for tech­nique, com­po­si­tion and orig­i­nal­ity, and a lot of them de­pict how a sud­den turn of events can turn lives up­side down, and what it means to be a victim of cir­cum­stances.

Chauhan, who is quite proud of his prison artists, says he wishes to tie up with an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tute for is­su­ing a diploma in art to in­mates trained at the Tihar school.

Over the past few months, Tihar in­mates have been trained first by a group of post­grad­u­ate stu­dents of the Col­lege of Art, Delhi, and then by well­known artists associated with the Lalit Kala Akademi at a five-day work­shop. The Akademi do­nated to the Tihar school of Art a few dig­i­tal re­pro­duc­tions of art­works by fa­mous artists such as F.N. Souza, apart from ref­er­ence books and films made on em­i­nent artists to inspire the in­mates. Re­cently, it or­ga­nized an ex­hi­bi­tion of art­works by pris­on­ers at Rabindra Bha­van.

Their cur­rent teacher, Sushma Ya­dav, an artist, says that the big­gest chal­lenge of teach­ing art to in­mates is to get them in­ter­ested in it. “Some of them are very tal­ented, dis­ci­plined and fast learn­ers. Art gives them a sense of self­worth. The art­works the in­mates have cre­ated also show their hu­mane and cre­ative side,” says Ya­dav.

As we talk, Amit Ku­mar, an in­mate fac­ing at­tempt-to-mur­der charges, shows Ya­dav a land­scape done in wa­ter colours. She asks him to bring in more colour con­trast in the paint­ing. Ku­mar clearly rel­ishes work­ing in wa­ter colours – in fact, the school walls have many wa­ter­colour paint­ings by him, in­clud­ing one de­pict­ing a metro sta­tion and a scene from a Pa­har­ganj street, where he was born and brought up. Ku­mar talks like a sea­soned wa­ter colour artist. “I love the tex­ture of wa­ter colours and the ef­fects they can cre­ate are amaz­ing. Be­sides, wa­ter colours are pretty un­pre­dictable and you have to learn to go with the flow,” says Ku­mar, daub­ing a thin layer of dark green onto the leaves of a tree in a land­scape he is cur­rently paint­ing.

Most of the in­mates never held a brush be­fore com­ing to jail, and now they want to take up art as a ca­reer. Ramesh Ku­mar, 23, who is fac­ing mur­der charges, says he wants to earn his liv­ing as an artist. He proudly shows a paint­ing of a ghat in Varanasi, which he frankly ad­mits is part copy of a work he saw in a news­pa­per.

“Art has helped me for­get mem­o­ries that oth­er­wise made me mis­er­able ev­ery mo­ment,” says Ramesh, who has been in the prison for over four years and hopes to be out on bail soon. Ro­hit Par­cha, an in­mate who loves to paint land­scape, also wishes to ex­plore art as a ca­reer op­tion. And why not? Art, he says, has al­tered him as an in­di­vid­ual.

“Ear­lier, I was of­ten an­gry and ir­ri­ta­ble, and would pick up fights ev­ery day. Now I try to make ev­ery­one laugh by crack­ing jokes all the time. Art has done this to me,” says Par­cha who, like many other in­mates, is fac­ing mur­der charges.

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