Every year, the community studio of Lalit Kala Akademi in Garhi village near Amar Colony attracts hundreds of artists from across the country. There’s a tough competition among young and senior artisans to get a workspace here. This is because the facility that has been developed in a peaceful and green surrounding is very affordable. An artist has to pay a monthly rent of just Rs 345 to get a spot in any of the studios here - sculpture, ceramic, graphic or printmaking and painting. At this time of the year, artists begin applying for workspaces.
According to the studio officials, this regional centre of Lalit Kala Akademi was established in 1976 and was named Kala Kuteer to meet the needs of artists. In the following years, the studio became a hub for printmakers. Many artists worked in the printmaking community studio. Young artisans flocked to the academy to learn the techniques from senior artists. Eventually, the place began attracting painters and sculptors. The complex provided a peaceful and green space where artists could work in liberty and give shape to their creativity.
Where art meets history
The area where this centre is located now was once known as village Gargi Zharia Maria. The land was allotted by Delhi Development Authority to promote art. The Garhi studio was given a regional centre status in 2000. The first director of the centre was Prof Sankho Chaudhuri, and the first regional secretary was Ramakrishna Vedala.
Earlier, a chaupal (community space) existed at the site. It was established in 1742 and still stands in the middle of the studio. The entry gate of the studio is part of the boundary wall enclosing the chaupal. Artists say the rural charm of the area, complete with the greenery, encourages their creativity.
Pradeep Kumar, 25, is a sculptor based in Haryana. This year he will be working at one of the studios here. “To create any sculpture, I need a large space. And, to get an affordable space for stone sculpting in Delhi is nearly impossible. Garhi studio is the cheapest option for artists like me. I get to create sculptures here on a small monthly rent. This place is a lifesaver,” said Kumar.
But, there are challenges
Kumar points out that new artists like him face problems. A major issue here is lack of sufficient storage and working space. Currently, dozens of statues are lying in the open amid heaps of waste in the complex and many new and young artists are forced to work in the open.
Like Pradeep Kumar, Bhola Kumar is a sculptor from Bihar. He says he was elated when he managed to get a space in the studio but was not prepared for what unfolded there. “I was told to create stone artworks under the shade of a tree, adjacent to a parking area. I could not believe it at first. How do I create sculptures in the open, with honking cars in the vicinity and inadequate light at night? But I began working since there was no other choice. I stop when it rains and watch helplessly as my precious artworks get soaked. That is painful to watch, it’s like fighting a losing battle,” he said.
The artists say the academy must ensure the safety and maintenance of the artworks. For several years, Arun Pandit has been working on bronze and fibre glass artworks. Known for his large sculptures based on his personal experiences, Pandit is one of the senior artists at the studio. Some of his earlier creations are lying in the open, gathering dust. “One of the statues on an artists representing the mutiny of 1857 was lying in garbage. The officials wouldn’t do anything about it. Later, artists moved it to a safer place,” said Pandit. On June 25, HT South Delhi had reported the issue of art works languishing in the open at the studio.
Meanwhile, Mukesh Goswami, supervisor of the ceramic community studio, said that artists are supposed to take back their works once they leave the studio. “Many senior artists have gone from the studio but their statues and paintings have been lying here for many years. We try to preserve them as much as possible, but it becomes difficult when the stock keeps piling. Artists don’t bother to come back and take their artworks,” he said.
Hostility of the villagers is another issue. Over the years, houses have been constructed adjacent to one of the boundary walls of the studio. Their windows face the space where sculptors work with grinders and cutters. The noise created by these sculpting tools often lead to arguments among artists and locals. “Sometimes the villagers threaten us. Working here is becoming difficult day by day,” said Pandit.
The locals feel that the constant work in the premises disturbs the serenity of the area. In the midst of this the worst affected are the sculptors who work in the open. “Some sound will always occur as we make sculptures. But locals feel disturbed. They try to stop us from working. So, nowadays, I am very cautious while carving stone sculptures. I try to make as little noise as possible with the tools. But then I lose my concentration and my creativity is affected,” said Kumar.
Despite the problems, the Garhi studio remains a coveted space. Officials say application forms continue to pour in. At present, 80 artists are working at the studio and the number is expected to go up in coming weeks.
“The studio is very cheap. Currently 150 artists are associated with the studio, out of which 80 are working at the community studio. Every year, many young artists come here as they get an opportunity to learn under the masters. In this way, new artists get exposure and gain experience. The camaraderie among artists has made the studio a hub of many artistic activities,” said a studio official.