The Garhi Studios, a working hub for artists in the Capital, is being renovated to give it an organised and urbane look

Walk into the prestigious Garhi (artists’) Studio in the heart of the Capital (East of Kailash) and one will witness enormous spaces dotted with magnificent sculptures and numerous artists silently working in big and small spaces. If few have shrunk spaces, others have expanded their area of work quite democratically. But the art works are rolling in dust; as if, for decades, no one has attempted to clean them up ever. The grooves of stunning sculptures have transformed into birds’ nests and the passageway to the studio has caved in to become mosquito-breeding water bodies.

Things, however, started looking up recently with a part of the Garhi studio spread over 1,272 sq m being renovated for the first time since its inception over 36 years ago. The renovated portion will soon be handed over to the artists to work in more clean and organised compartments.

For the uninitiated, earlier named Kala Kutir, the Garhi Studios are now so called as it is located on the periphery of a heritage site Village Garhi Zaria Mahal. It is situated on Delhi Development Authority’s land that was allotted to Lalit Kala Akademi to promote practising artists. The Akademi gives the space to the senior and junior artists from different parts of India at affordable monthly rental of Rs. 100, 300 and 500 depending upon single or shared spaces. They can also use the stock of raw material provided to them on no-profit no-loss basis.

The Garhi campus has three major designated areas: Old Shade, New Shade and Community Studio. Earlier, these were unplanned as spaces for ceramic, sculptures, painting in acrylic and oils, printmaking, etc were not defined. Moreover, hygiene was the biggest problem, and so was ventilation and light, especially during the night. Storage, too, had been a prime issue despite the mammoth size of the studios. Much space was wasted because of the lack of marked spaces to the artists.

The renovation operations have been entrusted with the National Buildings Construction Corporation (NBCC). Nardev Singh, NBCC’s managing director says, “Now the spaces have been renovated in more planned manner, not only to provide isolation to the artists but also a neat and clean environment, with regular and proper lights, ventilation and enhanced usage of the area. For instance, large spaces with high ceilings have been transformed by putting a mezzanine floor. They have become two-storied structures where more artists could be accommodated now.”

The sculpture studio, earlier an open and neglected part, has now been transformed into 1,200 sq ft area with an additional 600 sq ft space created by putting up a mezzanine floor. It has been provided with huge but basic washing and disposal area with appropriate lighting and cross ventilation for sculptures to dry. Earlier, the sculptors would dispose of mud and other materials in the open walking passages. Regular disposal resulted in caving in of the passage.

Similarly, a huge metal casting area, which earlier had no roof over it resulting in wear and tear of the valuable sculptures, is now covered with asbestos and tin sheets for protection.

The emergence of a 2,300 sq ft area, previously an unused open space and now proposed to be a gallery, is the most exciting part though. This space was earlier used by senior artists like Arpana Caur and Manjit Bawa.

Though the new rooms look cramped with less or no shelves, Mr. Singh assures they would be made according to the allottees’ specifications.

The renovated areas have given a sort of urbane look to the studios’ otherwise earthy appearance, but for the better. Agrees one of the senior-most resident artists, Kalicharan Gupta, “Not only do the structures protect valuable works and raw material which used to get rusted or damaged because of exposure through open spaces, but also make it tidier. Being an artist doesn’t mean one have to work in an unrefined atmosphere only. Which artist would not want a suave and up-market area to work in? This new step has encouraged artists here to vacate more spaces for the Akademi to renovate further.”

“Earlier in this available space, we could accommodate only some 130 people but now we would be able to give space to at least 30 more people — making space for approximately 200 artists. Though there are liberal spaces for sculpture, lithographs and printing, the smaller ones are for painting. Among the applications we receive, most are from painters; for instance, last time we had space for 20 painters but we received 85 applications,” says an Akademi representative.

Sudhakar Sharma, Secretary of Lalit Kala Akademi who initiated the renovation, says, “With this renovation, we can also consider facilitating foreign artists who come to Delhi during Trienniale or to do public art.”