Editorial / Johny ML
You Can Get it If you Really Want: Artists of Neb Sarai and Maidan Garhi in Delhi
They say art comes out when the artist is in pain. Struggle is the catch word here. Western art history has taught us to believe in this falsehood and portraying artists as perpetual strugglers who lack in money and material, has somehow created a benchmark to measure the merit of an artist’s creations. Good art need not necessarily come out from bad situations. But it is true that an artist needs life churning experiences to understand life and his/her times in the most aesthetically effective ways. Life changing experiences are not always life threatening experiences. Adverse situations often bring out the real mettle of human beings. In that sense the best lessons are taught and learnt when a human being undergoes the worst situations in life. However, worst situations are always not the worst monetary conditions. Bad financial situations automatically do not become worst situations. For an artist, adversities could be opportunities, if tackled in the right spirit. Today, many artists face adverse monetary conditions with a smile on their faces. They brace up and do a lot of good work; not only they do good works but also they create interesting locations to exhibit their works for peer groups and public. If you are in Delhi and if you care to visit Neb Sarai in South Delhi, you could see a group of artists working together against all odds and doing interesting works in different studios, and above all exhibiting them regularly for peer groups as well as for the local community members. Most importantly, they are not conjoined by any ideological adhesive. If at all anything makes them stand together, it would be bad monetary situation. But their art does not seem to suffer from this. They make good art, often tinged with a sense of dark comedy, yes, leveled at the mainstream society.
Not far away from the heart of South Delhi where rich kids hang out at the PVR theatre complex and the most illustrious malls where one of the richest art institutions in India, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art is located, and also not far from the slowly corporatizing Khoj Artists International, and the newly emerged art district of Delhi, Lado Sarai, Neb Sarai now houses maximum number of artists’ studios in Delhi. Famous for the Indira Gandhi National Open University that is fondly called as IGNOU, Neb Sarai is not the coolest place on the map of Delhi. Thanks to unplanned development there is a visible disparity amongst the housing units. You have Audi driving youths here and people living in shanties. There are centrally air conditioned houses as well as slums without toilets here. Maidan Garhi is a place where tradition and individual talent of survival mingle beautifully. Till recently, this area was not a cool place or a hot property destination. But things are changing slowly. And you won’t be surprised to know that artists who work from this area are the prime movers of the cultural value of this place. The latest artistic exercise that brought a lot of peers from different parts of Delhi and the local communities together was an open studio titled ‘Park In Studio’, where five artists namely Ravi Chunchula, Prem Singh, Midhun Gopi, Chala Chari and Sudhir Bagde exhibited there works.
Conceptualized by Bhavin Mistry, a young artist from Baroda, who has been working in Delhi for the last three years as an art curator and organizer, the speciality of this open studio was the location of the exhibition. Park –In is a very suggestive title. These five artists live in a parking lot of an inconspicuous but large building in Maidan Garhi, around two hundred meters away from the IGNOU. The artists have taken the space for a nominal rent a few months back and since then they have been living there converting a corner of the parking lot into a temporary kitchen. During day time they do their work and at night they sleep there. Seeing the plight of these youngsters and their decision to continue with their art, the landlord who has never stepped into a gallery or has seen any work of art before, has made a partition for them with fibre glass walls so that these young boys get some privacy. Park –In Studio therefore literally explains the nature of their works, their lives and their day to day affairs. Perhaps, exhibiting works at studios is not a path breaking concept, but today artists are ready to live in parking lots to do their works, without complaints, which has become the hallmark of the artists who have made it to the market during the boom years. Ravi’s works are large scale canvases and Chala Chari’s works are a clear contrast to them. They are too small to be noticed but too effective to go unnoticed. Prem Singh struggles with his aesthetics. Sudhir Bagde needs a bit more orientation in his photographic works. Midhun Gopi wants to experiment with the found materials but his real strength lies in his paintings that capture the topography of Delhi in self-made paper.
Park In studio is not the first studio in Neb Sarai. With the well intentioned efforts of Mathew and Aruna Mathew, NIV Art Centre has already brought a sense of gallery, residency and studios in Neb Sarai. A few recent pass outs from Delhi College of Art, namely Rahul Gautam, Rinku Chauhan and Abhijeet work from another studio in a nowhere location in Maidan Garhi and they call it Sancha Art Studio. There is a dye maker, welder and a caster working from the same premises. Rahul Gautam says that he forgets the difficulties of life once he is in the studio with his friends. Unlike the rich neighbourhood people, the poor people in the locality give them a lot of respect. Sancha Art Studio also makes space for community activities where they conduct film screenings and workshops. Right next to the Park In studio, artists Ajay Narayan and Shailesh Ojha too have their studio where they regularly invite people to have private views. Noted artists like M.Pravat, Ruchin Soni, Vibha Galhotra and a few others also have their studios here in the town part of Neb Sarai. But when it comes to community activities, the economically deprived artists stick together. According to Bhavin Mistry, these artists are not worried about money. “They can make their money by doing some commission works or taking up regular jobs. What they worry most is the lack of exhibition spaces. But now, as we have found our own ways of doing it, all of us are happy,” says Bhavin, who has temporarily suspended his career as an artist in order to organize shows for friends.
Neb Sarai became the focus of artistic activities once Somu Desai, an artist from Pardi in South Gujarat had moved here a year ago. Good at motivating artists and funders, Somu Desai helps a lot of artists by providing them opportunities to work with many agencies. He makes regular visits to the artists’ studios and engages them with works and talks. Trees, an organization where Somu holds a secretary post provides them with a platform for doing film screenings and site specific works. “I studied in a small town art college and spent almost ten years doing graphic design, fashion design and industrial design in Mumbai to survive. I have been running informal community studios for a long time. In Pardi I ran a community studio called Zero Kilometre. In Baroda, my rented apartment was the adda for most of the fresh pass outs from Baroda fine arts faculty. Once I relocated to Delhi, I saw a lot of young artists struggling to do their works. I make humble efforts to keep them going in good spirit,” says Somu Desai. As an artist who has seen the growth and fall of many artists during the boom and post boom years, Somu says that it is imperative to have internal happiness than material flourish to do art. Internal happiness comes from the artists’ ability to do their work with a positive spirit. In Neb Sarai this spirit of oneness is amply visible. One for all and all for one seems to be the motto of artists here. And in the history of next art market boom, there will be several artists from this location who will make their mark in the market.