Tihar prisoners’ artworks make way into a private art gallery in the Capital

A canvas shows cricketer Sachin Tendulkar ready to hit a ball. However, the artist chooses to show him in both his childhood and adulthood. Another canvas exhibits a Ganesha in blue, and then there’s one that depicts a village scene. These paintings, displayed at a group exhibition titled Paradise Regained, make a viewer inquisitive about the thought process behind them, but all queries dissolve when one realises that the artists are inmates of Tihar Jail.

For the first time ever, 70 paintings and 14 sculptures from the art gallery inside Tihar’s jail no. 4 have been displayed at an art gallery in Noida. Rajesh Chauhan, superintendent, jail no. 4, says he floated the idea to set up an art gallery inside the prison, and it became a reality with the encouragement of Ajay Kashyap, director-general (prisons).

“When I took charge last November, I realised that art keeps the inmates away from crime and provides them peace of mind. Away from their families, the prisoners often feel sad, and find it difficult to kill time. But when they start indulging themselves in art, they don’t realise how time flies,” says Kashyap.

This sculpture by a Tihar inmate named Rafiq is much appreciated by the curator.

The show might look like any other art exhibition at the onset, but the knowledge about the source of these artworks make a viewer look beyond the obvious. “There’s a painting which shows tears and has a small girl sitting below them… may be its artist is missing his daughter and repenting his deeds that drifted him away from his young one,” says Pratibha Agarwal, curator of the show.

READ| Art behind bars: When Delhi’s Tihar Jail inmates wield the brush

Agarwal admits that the works are a result of “overcoming depression, of repentance and the journey of the inmates from the dark past towards a bright future,” but insists that they are unbelievably beautiful. “I found them so beautiful and so confusing. How are people in these circumstances painting flowers and beaches and these very calm scenes?” she wonders.

A painting by a Tihar inmate, Afsar.

A recent order by the director-general of prisons says that the collection from the sale of artworks will be divided equally between the artist and the need to develop the art centre at Tihar. Chauhan says, “When we were asked by the gallery if they could exhibit our works, we were more than happy, because when the prisoners get to know that their work is being appreciated, then it makes them happy. At present, there are about 200-300 people learning art here. It feels heartening when some of them say that they want to take it up as a profession when they are released.”

Catch It Live
  • What: Paradise Regained
  • Where: Art Life Gallery, C 97, Sector 44, Noida
  • On till: May 20
  • Timing: 10am to 6pm
  • Nearest Metro Station: Botanical Garden on Blue Line

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