Discovering art behind bars

Tihar special

Discovering art behind bars

Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.
 – Henry Ward Beecher

Seeing these paintings of Buddhist monks, horses, birds and natural landscapes, who do you think would have created these? Master painters? Professional artists?

Surprisingly not. These are expressions of inmates at Delhi’s infamous Tihar jail.

Seven present and former prisoners of Tihar recently came together to display their works at an impressive exhibition at the India Islamic Centre, Lodhi Estate. The exhibit was aptly titled ‘Wings of Hope.’

The event was organised by Siddhartha Vashishta Charitable Trust (SVCT) – the NGO of Jessica Lal murder convict Siddhartha Vashishta alias Manu Sharma, who is also serving his term in Tihar. The NGO has been working for the welfare of Tihar inmates and their families for the past two years.

His mother, founder-chairperson, SVCT - Rani Sharma told Metrolife, “People from all parts of the country, professions and ages find their way to Tihar. They are convicted for various crimes – from theft to rape to murder but that does not mean that they are not human anymore. And where there is humanity, thrives art.”

“Some time back, while working with these prisoners, we realised that a few of them are good artists. They would draw on the walls, on newspapers and any bits of paper they would find. Spotting this talent and after consultation with Tihar authorities, we got a professional artist to train them and in no time they started producing unbelievably beautiful artworks.”

In fact, she says, one of them, who completed his term two years back, is a professional artist now. He trains interested prisoners in Tihar, Dasna jail, Ghaziabad as well as Karnal jail, Haryana.

This is not the first art exhibition held by SVCT. Before this, the NGO has held three such art exhibits. Rani says, “The quality and quantity of paintings you see right now (no less than 150 pieces) was not present in the previous three exhibits. Not all prisoners were optimistic about learning art. Most would draw dark negative things like dark alleyways, skinny outstretched arms, people falling etc.”

“However, with the passage of time, they realised that art works to their benefit. It would keep them busy, help express their feelings and even fetch them money when people would purchase the paintings. Slowly but steadily, we started seeing happier paintings – sceneries, music, temples, iconic figures etc.”

A lot of paintings related to Buddhism – monasteries, gods and goddesses and prayer wheels – also em­e­r­ged. Rani says this is a direct influence of their trainer, the ex-prisoner Dal Lama. He not only bro­u­g­ht art but also Buddh­i­sm’s ser­e­nity to their lives.  

A shy Dal says, “Everything in life happens for a good reason. My family in Tibet practiced Thangka art. I was also hugely interested in this work but had no money to attend an art school. Eventually, I was convicted for drugs in Delhi and put in Tihar. Here, I rece­i­v­ed training through SVCT and now, make an honest earning from art.”

“When I visit jails, I tell the prisoners not to waste time. I advise them to grasp whatever help fate throws in their direction. If its carpentry, they should pick it up. If it is art, they should learn it well. How can you tell which direction destiny is taking you in?”

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