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Tihar inmates’ tryst with art

Clad in a saffron sari, the young bride sits in a deserted house, with just a few clay pots and a wooden cartwheel for company.

delhi Updated: Dec 18, 2010 00:57 IST

Clad in a saffron sari, the young bride sits in a deserted house, with just a few clay pots and a wooden cartwheel for company. As the fading sun casts a red-orange hue in the room, her eyes peer out of the canvas, as if waiting for familiar footfalls. Made by Deepak Das, 25, a murder convict, this painting is among 65-odd others on sale at the Shree Ram Bharatiya Kala Kendra, as part of a three-day exhibition by the Tihar Jail.

Delhi chief secretary Rakesh Mehta inaugurated it on Friday. All the paintings are untitled. Flip through the works of these jail inmates and you will find themes indicating their troubled past and a sense of loss. While some are scenes from broken families, others have slices of idyllic, rural life.

Like Das, another inmate Suraj, 19, is a purveyor of a haunting past. One of his works has a sinewy male sitting on the floor in the dark, encircled by his own footprints: the body and his footprints are etched in gold. Suraj, like Das, is also a murder convict. Another inmate, Yogesh’s work shows a rural family, including two women, walking to their paddy field in the reddish glow of the dawn. The trainee painters are part of the jail’s painting school, under its Art Therapy programme.

These artists practise eight hours a day, six days a week, under the watchful eyes of their trainers, one of whom is head constable Desh Raj. According to Raj, the inmates are chosen based on their “talent and an inclination to sketch and paint.” “The inmates have a tendency to choose stark themes, like a shrunken tree or broken homes and use dark colours. But I encourage them to use happy themes and bright colours,” he says, pointing towards a painting that shows a villager on a bike, with earphones and sunglasses, sipping from a cold drink bottle.

Nearby, a woman is seen chatting on a mobile phone; huts with dish antennae are located in the vicinity.