Inauguration of Shri Ganesha Art Gallery in Jammu last month by Dr. Jitendra Singh, Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for the Ministry of Development of North Eastern Region, Prime Minister Office, Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Department of Atomic Energy and Department of Space, is an event of great significance for the arts and artists of J&K State. The beauty of this endeavour is that it is an entirely private effort initiated by an artist cum art lover without any Government support at all.
The Gallery is located in the posh D/C Block of Gandhi Nagar colony of Jammu which has some of the costliest real estate in the city. However, a cursory visit to the houses in the vicinity, the value of none of which would be less than an 8 figure sum, reveals that rarely, if at all, is an original art work displayed therein. The sofas have leather upholstery, obscenely expensive Swarovski crystals are on display, there’s the latest model of a brand new car in the driveway but no work of art on the walls or in display areas of the drawing room, lobby or corridors. It all signifies only one thing that although the owners are flush with money but they still lack Class.
Apparently, there is little connect between the riches and cultural consciousness in our times. It is a far cry from the time when a small Jagirdar of a small village Basohli in Kathua District promoted art and artists in a manner that makes all of us proud even today. According to 2011 census, Basohli town had a population of 5433. One can imagine, what would have been its population around 300 years ago? Yet, Raja Kirpal Pal, who had a very small area under his control, and thus meagre income, gave shelter to and patronised artists of Pahari Miniature School. It is because of this small Jagirdar’s vision and love for art and artists that one feels proud to find a Basohli miniature displayed in some of the finest art galleries and Museums across the globe. Unfortunately, the love for arts, music and literature has not really taken off with the nouveau riche of Jammu.
The stock market savvy new generation of Jammuites has also not yet realised the investment opportunity that art provides. They would be astounded to learn that the fourth Christie’s India auction, which took place on 18 December, 2016, threw up a surprise in the high sum fetched for a circa 1700 Basohli miniature painting made with pigment, gold, silver and beetle wing on paper. It was sold for a neat Rs.93.25 lakh in the auction. In December 2015, in the Saffronart auction of classical Indian art, two Basohli Ragamala paintings sold for a record-making Rs.96.00 lakh each. Same is the case with the works of some of the veteran as well as contemporary artists belonging to our State. Their works, acquired by art lovers outside the State for a few thousand rupees some years ago, are already worth a 7 figure sum today.
The reasons why did a city, which was once an important centre of Pahari Miniature painting, abandon its love for art and artists is a long story with historical, social and political connotations. Yet, if one were to count the reasons for the passive, apathetic and indifferent attitude towards art and artists in Jammu, lack of a decent space where artists and the connoisseurs could meet and discuss art and where artists could display their latest works can be counted as one of the major factors. The small art gallery in the basement of Abhinav Theatre has been closed for decades and the one at Jammu Kala Kendra is devoid of proper lighting or display area. The Lotsava Rinchen Bzangpo Art Gallery at the Zorawar Singh Auditorium at Jammu University is good but far too removed from the eye of the public at large. Gallery Shri Ganesha hopes to end this dismal scenario.
The Gallery Shri Ganesha is a beautiful space for displaying art works with floating walls, state of the art lighting, ideal ambience, soothing environment, air conditioning and moisture control etc. It is a 800 Sq.Ft. ideal space to showcase art works in a manner a connoisseur would want these to be displayed. It is a space that would please the artists as well as art lovers.
Dr. Raj Kumar Sharma, the owner of the Gallery, is a renowned Senior Consultant, Diabetologist and Physician Specialist of Jammu city, whose patients include the rich and mighty as well as poor and the underprivileged. His fame and the faith of his patients in him can be gauged by the long queues of patients outside his clinic. Yet, he has many other facets to his personality. He is an avid gardener and has won many awards for maintaining the best garden in town. He is also a painter of repute and has exhibited his works in several solo and group shows in Jammu and outside. He is an ardent devotee of Lord Ganesha and his numerous Ganesha paintings have many admirers. It is because of this devotion that he has named the Gallery as ‘Shri Ganesha’.
The idea of Dr. Raj Kumar Sharma is not confined to displaying his own art works alone in the Gallery but to make this space a thriving hub for art activity in the city. He plans to invite all major artists of the State, and from outside the State too, to display their art works in the Gallery. The process of designing a website of the Gallery, a Facebook page, a Twitter handle and an Instagram account is underway. He, in consultation with some senior artists, is also chalking out an annual calendar of exhibitions for the Gallery.
Physicians have a long history, dating back to Greek medicine, of literary activities. This may have its origins in mythology. Apollo was the god of both poetry and medicine. Pallas Athene was the goddess of poetry, healing and war. Brigit was the Celtic patroness of poets, smiths and healers. It is thought that through their privileged and intimate contact with those moments of greatest human drama (birth, illness, injury, suffering, disease, death) physicians are in a unique position to observe, record and create the stories that make us human. “The clinical gaze has much in common with the artist’s eye.”
There have been numerous examples in history when physicians have, besides treating sick bodies, also made significant contribution towards healing the tormented souls through literature, art and music. Physicians have been poets such as Keats, Schiller and Oliver Wendell Holmes. They have also been writers, painters, musicians and philosophers such as Anton Chekhov, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W. Somerset Maugham, Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park), Robin Cook (Coma), Taslima Nasreen, Gyan Chaturvedi, Khaled Hosseini and Siddhartha Mukherjee. Dr. Raj Kumar Sharma, it must be said, has a great lineage and is in good company.
The State of Jammu and Kashmir can boast of many artists who have made a mark on the national as well as international art scene. Yet, their names are relatively unknown in their own State. The time has come when the discerning public in Jammu, particularly those who can afford to buy art, renew their interest in art and artists and have at least a few original art works in their homes. This will separate them from the rich with money alone and elevate them to the category of people with Class. One hopes that Gallery Shri Ganesha will play a significant role in near future to make Jammu a vibrant centre for art and artists.