Railway stations turn art galleries

Another initiative to impress tourists

Railway stations turn art galleries
11 stations have attractive theme-based paintings
Rajasthan, known for its rich heritage and grand forts, has added a unique feather to its heritage turban. The latest initiative is at railway stations. As many as 11 stations, some of them were unkempt and dreary, in to places of art. Artwork with exquisite themes have been completed at 11 stations and two more--Kishangarh and Alwar stations--are in the pipeline.

The works are not just a new coat of paint and cleaner surroundings but they are fast earning the tag of public art galleries. As Bharatpur has a bird sanctuary, the railway station theme promotes idea of conservation. Floral motifs from Badal Mahal have been used to decorate the station in Bikaner. The famous Bani Thani paintings are catching visitors’ attention at the Ajmer station. Udaipur has used representations from the Mewar School of Art, an important school of miniature painting of the 17th and 18th centuries. The Kota  station has traditional paintings from Bundi School of Art.

Similarly, the Jodhpur station has been embellished with Phad paintings done on cloth depicting stories of local deities and gods. The Sikar station has unique Shekhawati paintings and frescos of havelis that captivate passengers. The Jaipur Railway Station is painted with Jogi Art, a tribal art form that hinges on dots and lines done by artists from Mount Abu. Whereas the Jaipur's Gandhi Nagar Station has been done with paintings of traditional Rajasthani puppets and the Jaipur skyline could be seen on the platform of Durgapura.

The first to get a facelift was the Sawai Madhopur Railway Station, gateway to the world-famous Ranthambhore National Park. The station has now become a virtual living art museum of wildlife, showcasing the flora and fauna, including the famed tigers of the wildlife reserve. This station recently bagged the prestigious national tourism award of the Union Tourism Ministry for 2014-15. The artwork from the Ranthambhore School of Art was led by two master painters Gajanand Singh and Narayan Singh. A team of 20 artists decorated about 7,000-sqft area of the railway station with the paintings of forests, banyan trees, tigers, leopards, bears, darters and tree-pies. The project was funded by the World Wildlife Fund India.

On the initiative of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, railway stations in the state are being painted thematically. Taking  cue from the Prime Minister's “Swachh Bharat Abhiyan”, Raje wrote a letter to Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu last year, requesting him that railway stations in the state be given thematic facelift so that they stand out in terms of aesthetics, cleanliness and are also user-friendly. Divisional Railway Manager Anjali Goyal told Deccan Herald: “We are trying to carry forward the rich tradition of highlighting art and decorating railway stations. Idea was not only to make the surroundings pleasant but also help in providing a platform to local artists to showcase their talent and earn livelihoods.”

Himanshu Jangid of CARTIST, who painted three railway stations of the pink city with a team of 10 artists, explains, “We chose 'Katputli' (puppet) theme for the Gandhi Nagar Station after much deliberation because it’s an important part of Jaipur's rich history and is dying a slow death. The realistic kind of a painting of special puppets of sun, birds and elephant in bright colours over a Persian Blue background  creates a 3D effect. In addition craft motifs and creative forms of clouds used in traditional paintings also appear.”

For the busier main Jaipur Junction, simple art form was chosen to connect with the masses. Whereas the Durgapura Station, where luxury trains such as Palace on Wheels originate, one can see the skyline of Jaipur’s walled city. The walls have the same pink hue which was chosen by Sawai Ram Singh, when Jaipur was painted pink for the first time to welcome the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, in 1876.

“The commuters who board the train or get off at the Durgapura Railway Station, even before entering the main city, which is eight km away, can get an essence of the walled city and its skyline, depicting dome of temples, old buildings and government offices. Artists have painted the street of Chandpole to Choti Chaupar on the giant wall of the railway station,” Himanshu added.

The Rajasthan Tourism Department appreciates this move as Rajasthan is a hub of national and international tourists. Over 1.53 million foreign and 33.1 million domestic tourists visited the desert state in 2014.  Rajasthan Tourism Department Special Secretary Rolli Singh told Deccan Herald: “This is one of the best initiatives taken by the department with the help of the Railway Ministry and the state government. It emphasises promotion of art in public domain. Not only it connects our masses with different art forms but also it provides an opportunity to the artists to showcase their skills on a bigger canvas."

The presence of art in public spaces and the problem of their preservation have been companions since time immemorial. For most of the artists their painting on a street wall is as important as a painting hanging in a gallery.

A calligraphy artist of Jaipur, Harishankar Balothia, one of the earliest ones to paint on the bridges of the pink city, has a pain to share. “Every time artists put their heart and soul and paint on the streets in difficult circumstances, to connect masses with art, but later when he gets to see art work in deteriorating condition his heart aches." In Jaipur one can easily spot this. A 30 feet fresco painted by Kripal Singh which once used to be pride at the Jaipur Junction is no more visible after it got damaged during renovation six years ago.

Ranjit Hoskote, a contemporary art critic and a renowned cultural theorist, looks at it this way, "Public art is both robustly present in our urban contexts, and very fragile. Usually, it has little or no protection from the weather, vandals and casual defacement. It is assumed that it will remain forever. Just as unfortunate as this neglect from a conservation perspective is our tendency to take public art for granted. We do not inculcate a sense of awareness about art among students at school or college. We rarely publish lists of public artworks in which we may take justifiable pride. Our care for public art should assume an active form, both through a consistent conservation and maintenance programme, and through more attentive forms of aesthetic education."

Interestingly, young artists and researchers have given up on preserving the public art, which according to them can sustain for three years. Khusboo Bharati, an art teacher currently pursuing her research on public art in Jaipur , said, “Usually public art is prone to weather circumstances and vandalism in our country or all over the world. We have been tackling with the issue but there's a different handling  needed for  murals, paintings, sculptures etc,. Public art doesn't stay forever anywhere in the world, hence we should not look at it as a long term art."

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