EDITORIAL: Lessons that Nek Chand taught us with his death / Editor-in-Chief Johny ML
JohnyML, Editor in Chief of Artehelka pays rich tribute to the departed artist, Nek Chand of Chandigarh and says that the death of Nek Chand should help us discern art consultants and PWD contractors from the visionary city planners.
Legends are often made of stories, bronze and stone. We do listen to stories, we do see bronze and stone sculptures, but many of those leave us a bit disappointed as we find those stories reeking of falsehood and the sculptures hiding the feet of clay. But there are instances where legends are created out of broken myths; scattered stories, reconfigured sculptures from the refuse and a lot of disjointed tales. These stories may sound unconvincing but that is the beauty of it. There is magic in the retelling of these stories and each time, the teller adds a bit to the narration making it a mélange of ideas, hopes and imaginations, perhaps exactly the way the cause of the legend, an erstwhile living human being, had imagined the world and recreated in his own fashion.
Nek Chand Garden is one such legend. But today we stand grieving the death of the maker of that legend. It is not strange that some people turn into legends themselves as they keep working towards the making of a legend. When Nek Chand of Chandigarh passed away at the age of ninety, not only has he created a legend but also become a legend himself. Stories, written in superlative words and expressions on Nek Chand Garden and Nek Chand himself by many a journalist, tell us how he has turned a small plot of land into a garden of sculptures created out of the industrial refuse and quirky natural shaped objects of nature. Nek Chand was not rewarded by accolades and instant recognition by the people of Chandigarh, an absolutely planned regimented city designed by the illustrious architect, Le Corbusier. Instead, Nek Chand was threatened with jail and punishment.
I was about to say that jail and punishment bring future reputation in politics and social service. Initial resistance by the people and the powers that govern, make the victory even sweeter. But all those who go to jail do not become famous or it is not good to believe that all of them have noble intentions in going behind the bars. Nek Chand was well meaning but as it is a norm to our society Nek Chand was duly misunderstood and he received punitive threats. Sooner than later, by mid -1970s, when people and the administration saw the beauty of his making, instead of punishment, they awarded him with more plot and more facilities. Nek Chand would have done the same even if he was not given those facilities and awards. But recognition made his life easier. He created his legend out of broken porcelain, bathroom fittings, natural rocks and what not. Today his works are included in many international museums.
Nek Chand was a natural artist. T.S.Eliot observed the modern world as a heap of broken images. Nek Chand seems to have taken the clue from the great British poet. He imagined a world through broken materials but the end result was a convincing set of complete images. Nek Chand garden is a museum in itself. It houses all possible living forms in the world aesthetically done through broken materials. There is a thematic curation that takes the viewer from one place to another. There is a bit of childish enthusiasm in making this garden. However, that childishness has paid off well. The enthusiasm in visiting infects the grownups and the indifferent exactly the way it appeals to the children. Today, the era of selfies has taken Nek Chand garden to the rest of the world through the innumerable mobile cams carried by the visitors from all over the world.
When Nek Chand is no more, we are forced to ask a question: Why we do not have so many sculpture parks like this one in other Indian cities? The answer is simple: We do not have a Nek Chand in every Indian city. Let’s forget Nek Chand for a moment here. We do have sculptors and artists in all the cities, but do we have acres of land devoted for installing the works of the sculptors in our cities? The answer is an emphatic NO. Has any sculptor attempted a similar method to capture the public land and erect his sculptures there? NO is the answer again. If the case is so, then Nek Chand is unique and his efforts and result should be taken to the legendary levels and celebrated.
Unfortunately, Nek Chand has fallen into the PWD culture of our city planning. We all have seen the squares and circles in a city. We have seen small islands of land near the traffic signals. All these places are filled with sculptures that emulate the Nek Chand style but unfortunately executed by some contractors with all the blessings of the Public Works Department. In most of the cities in our country we have city beautification planners and committees meant for it. Often the suggestions of these committees are overstepped and the PWD contractors take over through means of corruption. Nek Chand, in my view, while creating a legendary museum out of broken materials, also has given birth to a PWD art culture, which has nothing to do with Nek Chand’s ‘vision’ but has a lot to do with the rehashed ‘style’ of Nek Chand, which in fact is hundred times removed from the finely executed figures in the Nek Chand garden.
My appeal here, at least on the day that we all remember the contributions of Nek Chand, is to have a rethinking on our city beautification projects. Let the PWD do what it is supposed to do. Let art be made by the artists. Even seeing art could be an unpleasant experience when works of art are randomly placed without any context, rhyme or reason in the highly sophisticated places like the latest international airports in Mumbai and Delhi. They are likened to the museums and the corridors of beauty. I have been to these corridors a few times and let me tell you, I have not felt that much of aesthetical sublimation happening in me by witnessing those supposedly great pieces of works of art. Then sense descends upon me. Here we have celebrated contractors working as middlemen (middle women too often go by the name of ‘consultants’) and at the traffic signals, it is the PWD contractors. Pray, the demise of Nek Chand helps us awaken from the aesthetical slumber that we have fallen into due to our own kind of political lethargy.
(All Images have been sourced from the Internet)