The statue of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the 18th century Afghan ruler who vanquished the Marathas in the third battle of Panipat in 1761, lies here. Sharing space with him are a few other historical icons like Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore and former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. The statues are among dozens of statues of prominent personalities that are gathering dust in one corner of the community studio of the Lalit Kala Akademi in Garhi in south Delhi.
Administered by the ministry of culture, the state-run academy set up in 1976 is unique as it is the only community studio in the Capital where artists can get together and give shape to their creativity. However, the sprawling campus spread over 1,272 sqm is fast running out of storage space. Currently, the 50-odd statues, all works of art, are lying amid heaps of waste or covered with plastic sheets. They remain symbols of neglect. The academy officials put the blame on the artists.
“Artists leave back their statues and paintings here. They keep lying here for years. The statue of Abdali has been lying here for more than a decade now. The stock keeps piling and the artists don’t bother to take back their statues,” said Rakesh Jha, assistant manager of the centre.
The artists on the other hand say that it’s the responsibility of the academy to ensure that the artworks remain in good shape. “We are artists. We create art. The academy is supposed to take care of our art. Whatever we make at the academy, it is their property. There is no commercial work done here. Unfortunately, the institute that claims to be a haven for artists is letting dust eat away some of our greatest works,” laments Amitabh Bhaumik, who worked at the studio in 2008.
The academy, however, remains a major attraction for artists. Currently, there are 104 of them working at the studio. An academy official says that the issue has been brought to notice of the central academy at Mandi House multiple times, but no solution has been found so far.
Due to the space crunch, the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had earlier allowed the academy to use an adjoining park. However, residents resisted as dust and noise of the constant chiselling by sculptors troubled them. They complained against it and finally the academy had to remove the statues from the park.
“What pains me the most is that we have given our blood and sweat to these art pieces and now they lie abandoned in a corner. We are made to feel that there is no space for our creativity in the country. Nobody values our effort. There are museums in other countries that preserve and celebrate art. Here they are gathering dust. It is heart-breaking for us,” says Devidas Khattri, a sculptor.
The artists said that they had written the academy, DDA and NDMC in 2014 when a few of them were asked to vacate the studios along with their belongings. “We asked them to install the statues in the adjacent park or look for other recreational places where they could be installed. We are still waiting for a response from either of them,” said Khattri.