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Garhi Art Studio - Delhi

Garhi, the artists’ haven will continue to make news in value based art history.

Located in South Delhi it came into being in 1976. The Lalit Kala Adademi provided the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) with funds to set up these studios. The inspiration was the ‘City of Art’ in Paris where individual artists are provided with studios and lodging. Garhi followed the setting up a similar art fortress, ‘Cholamandal’, in Madras.

However, Garhi has some distinctive features. Only qualified professional artists can apply to the Lalit Kala Adademi. Their work is evaluated, and those with talent and education are admitted. It has studios for both – groups of artists, and for individuals. The range od disciplines is impressive – painting, print-making that includes etching and silkscreen painting, pottery and sculpture in clay stone, fibre glass, wax and plaster of Paris. It accommodates artists, young and not-so-young. It is always well populated and has the advantage of a genuine art fortress in fencing out non-artists, while allowing insiders full play for the exercise of their creativity. To all of them the village has been both inspiration and sustainer.

Garhi, provides four community studios for graphics, sculpture, pottery and painting and seven individual studios. Eight to 10 artists can work at a time in a community studio. The painter’s studio has partitions, but the others are just large halls where artists work in their own selected corner. Each community studio has a supervisor, a crucial person, for he is in charge of making materials available to the artists at cost price, and for maintaining the studio.

The common factor that unites the artists, men and women painters and sculptors in various media is need-cum-commitment, so that the atmosphere of professionalism is genuine and reflects both the quality of entrant and evidence of individual and collective artistic growth.

What may seem a disadvantage – the fact that Garhi is in the centre the city’s life and movement – is in fact an asset. There are only a few artists who are in search of a Shangrila far from the madding crowd. Garhi become a heaven for several artists who point out that when you are busy “the doors of your mind are automatically closed to all other thoughts and distractions.” Its sights and smells (chiefly of clay) area accepted without comment and constitute welcome evidence of an artistic oasis.

It is this composite of several allied arts each represented by a professional at work that is possibly among the most fascinating aspects of Garhi. Here, for instance, is a sober-looking young woman with a palette and a brush in her hands, busy at work. She has been painting for several years and displays the confidence of someone about to arrive. Then, close by, is a graphic artist, a young man, who has been hard at work for eight years. He could not have done as well at home – Garhi has offered him the necessary facilities. Here again are “potters” working, one perched on a stool with a wheel moving in front of her, another surveying his work, head on one side, critically. And then, again, there is an artist busy with a wooden frame, who feels better working alone than in a team, but is, nevertheless, better off at Garhi than he would be at an isolated studio in town. There are others – bronze casters, people working in metal with welding equipment near furnaces, ceramics specialists – every variety of art-cum-craft that achieves beauty with utility.

The image of the artist’s village in the midst of an average community persists and seems healthy. The voices of children at play, a ground of artists sharing lunch, an old woman talking to two young people even as her hands are busy wiping some etchings, and near them all, brightly coloured dahlias swaying in the breeze, tall Ashoka trees providing a benevolent shade, a couple of cycles leaning against the wall, at these cohere and jump to constitute that casual everyday image of a world of art within a world of ordinary people, that is as it should be.

Perhaps most important within this atmosphere, is the opportunity that Garhi provides for the exchange of ideas and the contagion of innovation. Interaction with artists is important because art cannot be pursued in isolation. A visual artist may indeed move from one medium to another.

Garhi has become so popular through its 13 years that other artists coming from all over India, and even form abroad, are curious about what’s going on. So clearly, more Garhi’s have to be set up.

It is relevant to ask: Can artist work together for long without explosive quarrels? The creative process does create tensions. This is one of the administrator’s most difficult problems, to get them to live and work, not necessarily in perfect harmony, but without getting in one another’s way. And this is where additional space becomes vital. The insistent demand for space is an indication that the original Garhi has thrived.

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