Almost a year ago eminent poet Gulzar was present on the occasion of the launch of a book that contained stories of Partition by Indian and Pakistani authors. While others spoke of the pain and sufferings of the Partition, Gulzar asked, “Why sh ould we always talk of tears and trauma of Partition? There must have been some moments of joy within the pain too.” He recalled a few hilarious anecdotes that brought a smile to the sad audience. Watching an exhibition of paintings by Tihar Jail inmates triggers the same feeling. Titled “Expressions”, the exhibition by inmates of Jail Number 5, both undertrials and convicts in the age group of 18 to 21, portrays no different feelings from works of other artists.
Complemented well by several known artists like Rameshwar Broota, Bose Krishnamachari, Gigi Scaria, and others, the show, ironically, contains a contradiction. The artists who visited the jail have painted a grim picture of the inmates’ life and the jail surroundings, while the inmates themselves have said it joyfully, with the best possible hues and humour, stories and symbols. Suraj for instance, who says he used to sketch earlier, has all the ingredients of a versatile artist. All his four works are different from each other: a pet dog playing with balloons on a lavish carpet (a contrast to his own life), a graceful woman with stunning figure, drenched after a bath going for the puja, a puzzled small, nude girl and two women drawn in modern composition, have no sadness in them. “I want to be a realistic painter and make my parents feel proud of me,” he says optimistically. Deepu’s “New Krishna” is not the mythological one. He is a handsome, angry modern man, bald and brooding. His flute is stylised with pearls hanging from it and he doesn’t wear a peacock feather. Shreyas Kalre’s works hint at the genes of a filmmaker in him. His film poster in black and white print called “Kalyug Ka Kaidi” has a ‘multi-armed’ lead actor. He holds a paintbrush, kitchenware, vacuum cleaner, degree certificate, and a laptop in his different arms, while music flows in the air. With his enormous height, this actor has grown bigger than the jail. In another film poster, “Jail Ki Roti”, inmates are shown preparing food.
It must be noted here that inside Tihar, the inmates are educated and trained in cooking, computers, housekeeping, etc.
Iqbal’s fabulous oil on canvas of a young girl (inmate) with reproachful eyes, Raju’s “Moksha” (depiction of hell and heaven divided by clouds and mountains) are among other notable works. A few works like “Mother and Child” on Mother Mary and Jesus, “In Conversation” (three women) are obviously imitations but nonetheless show the artists’ willingness to learn.
Rameshwar Broota’s “Roti”, a mammoth photographic print of a bundle of rotis, spotted with flies, kept in a huge round weather-beaten platter, is a peep into the jail kitchen. Donovon’s fantastic oil on canvas, “Set Me Free”, is about a small boy waiting in the dark. Arun Kumar’s installation “Behind the Barcodes”, a set of toys — from Superman to Batman to rich brats — with barcodes containing sections of the IPC is an interesting way of saying how consumerism triggers the criminal instinct in a child.
The exhibition is on view till September 2 at IGNCA, Janpath.