As the Government
College of Art, Chandigarh, nears its 61st year, Nonika Singh
reflects on whether an institution shapes its alumni or the
celebrated students go on to define a college
Poor is the pupil
who does not surpass his master
— Leonardo da
A sculpture by Avtarjeet Dhanjal
A metal sculpture by Shiv Singh, which is in the collection of Galerie-d’ ART Moderne, Helsingborg, Sweden
AS the Government
College of Art, Chandigarh, is all set to celebrate its diamond
jubilee, the quote acquires a new meaning. A host of its
distinguished alumni have clearly surpassed what their teachers
may have taught them once. Much like the prodigal sons and
daughters they stand tall, as many have earned a permanent place
for themselves under the sun.
Without doubt, it
is a vital relationship the significance of which can’t be
wished away. Or better still, as renowned sculptor Shiv Singh
puts it, "No one can create an artist. Institutions only
provide the right ambience." So did the GCA? Well, when he
studied in late 1950s it was Government Art and Craft School at
Shimla. Back then, not only were students taught crafts like
lacquer blacksmith carpentry, etc which he thinks are an
essential imperative but teachers like S L Prasher, the
founding-principal of the school, would come to the class.
"He would create along with the students and thus set an
inspiring example." And often the stimulation, asserts
eminent painter Viren Tanwar, would come from a simple refrain
— change your colour palette. He recalls teachers like Raj
Jain and Harjit Kular, whose house they could visit anytime and
clarify their doubts. Never mind that today many feel that the
adhocism has marred the appointment of the principal since 1989,
or that the contractual system, wherein nearly 40 per cent
teachers are employed on contract system, has affected teaching
Teachers, in fact,
are remembered with great fondness by most. Be it veterans like
Prem Singh or new generation young artists like Jiten Thukral or
Vibha Galhotra, all seem to owe a debt of gratitude to
sculptor Avtarjeet Dhanjal candidly, albeit bluntly, refuses to
look back at the college through rose-tinted glasses. The man,
who came from a village background with zero awareness of what
sculpture means and later went on to study at St Martins School
of Art London, discovered the true meaning of freedom and
creativity in an alien soil only. He had even audaciously burnt
the certificate that the college (then Government Art School,
Chandigarh) gave him. He says about the GCA: "The only
memorable thing that I remember is when one of the teachers told
me — we don’t have what you are looking for."
Come to think of
it, the college has one of the finest buildings designed by Le
Corbusier, including a museum next door. But in all those years
Ranbir Kaleka, one of the brightest stars on the international
horizon today, can’t remember a single scholarly trip to the
museum next to the college. The college library which is
well-equipped today, however, did provide an opportunity to read
and opened a world of design and designers, he asserts. Other
rewarding experiences were occasional visits of eminent art
scholar Dr B. N. Goswamy.
Goswamy’s presence in the city, even though he was not part of
the college, has been a fountainhead of motivation over the
years for the college students. Be it well-known lensman Diwan
Manna, chairperson, Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi or Galhotra,
all credit him with making Chandigarh, a culturally vibrant
Down the memory
lane of the college, too, there have been men like Jagmohan
Chopra, who brought in refreshing winds of change. Under his
helmsmanship as principal, the college played host to many
international exhibitions while a significant number of artists
from the college exhibited their works at the national
exhibition in New Delhi.
music playing in the studios, the ambience, asserts Tanwar, was
just right for creativity. He taught at the college in those
days. But thereafter, somewhere the momentum was lost.
works are today part of Asia Art Week New York, Project 88, and
many more prestigious exhibitions, says that when she studied
here, "Few teachers of the college were aware of the
international modern art scene. So where was the question of
But on hindsight
she feels, "This oblivious-to-the-world approach helped by
default for one was not influenced by other artists."
Dhanjal, she doesn’t discredit the role of the institution in
her life or otherwise and rates it on par with others in the
country at least in terms of infrastructure. She still can’t
get over how the college would provide them the expensive zinc
plates and acid as well as best-quality easels.
Jiten Thukral, who
has teamed up with Sumir Tagra and made a name for himself in
the international market, is exceptionally proud of being a GCA
product. In fact, wherever he goes, he remains first and
foremost a product of GCA, never of Delhi College of Art, from
where he did his MFA.
So what stops it
from being a true successor of the premier institution that
British had set up in Lahore? Prem Singh, one of its significant
alumnus as well as former principal, who spent 34 years in the
college, opines, "It’s the failure to update the syllabus
and inability to keep in sync with the times that had held the
D. S. Kapoor,
present principal of the college whose association with the
college spans three generations, talks of recent enabling
efforts like the wi-fi system, special sculpture park.
Manna, too, agrees
that more steps like artists in residence, visiting professors
and state-of-the-art studios can truly uplift the college and
expose students to the very best. Of course, at the end of the
day, he feels that "the college allowed me to be
myself" and asserts that one has to chart one’s own
course. The college can, at best, help develop the vision. As
Constantin Brancusi said, "To see far is one thing going,
there is another."
Neo-Camouflage by Vibha Galhotra. Variable, digital print on vinyl and fabric
and mannequins, 2008
Qadri may have passed away but the art world would
remember him as the artist, who strived to achieve contact
with the world within and liberated the word meditation
from its fashionable context through his remarkable
paintings on the theme.
Dhanjal, world-renowned international sculptor based in
UK, has had the proud privilege of exhibiting with
luminaries such as Henry Moore and Barbara Helworth. The
Institute of International Visual Arts, London, celebrated
25 years of his art journey in a major show in London and
published a monograph in 1997.
Kaleka, another star that shines bright on the
international horizon, has captured the attention of the
world with moving images on canvas redefining both video
art and video projections. A Jewish museum in Chicago has
commissioned him to make a multi-media installation.
Thukral, whose work sold at Sotheby’s for a whopping Rs
1.8 crore, exhibits from Turin to Tokyo. His admirers
include pop star Elton John and art czar Frank Cohen.
Galhotra is among the few women artists whose name begets
attention. Her experimental techniques have earned her a
unique place in the contemporary art scene.
site-specific works not only dot the City Beautiful but
also many cities in Germany.
Tanwar whose paintings were picked up by art collectors
like Chester Herwitz way back in the 1970s, can boast of
having his works in prestigious museums such as Peabody
Essex Museum USA as well as individual collection of
Manna’s works can be seen across museums such as Museum
of Asian Art, Berlin, Germany and Museum of Modern Art,
Saint-Etienne, France. For one particular photograph he
was paid Rs 8 lakh, rather steep for a photograph in
edition of 10.
is another notable painter, whose paintings have a
meditative quality and have been acquired by British,
Mexican and Swedish ambassadors; the Düsseldorf Museum;
Heda, Sweden. He has also made 15 documentaries on Indian
temples, art and architecture.
has won the prestigious Triennale India International
Award in 1994. His works adorn the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the
National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, Lalit Kala
Akademi, State Museum, Chennai, Sahitya Kala Parishad and
Punjab Raj Bhavan
names that bear mention are Mumbai-based Gurcharan Singh
younger brother of Prem Singh, Canada-based R.S. Rania and