Jammu needs Art Galleries of excellence

A View of Amar Mahal Museum. Excelsior/Rakesh

Shivani Khajuria
Jammu, like other Indian cities, is going to be ‘Smart’. Yes, smart enough in all terms including infrastructure, mobility, sanitation, efficient urban mobility, adequate water and electricity supply, affordable housing, robust IT connectivity, digitalization and good governance so that it grows sustainably and improve the quality of residents’ lives. Despite these developments, there isn’t much consensus on the establishment of new or revival of existing art galleries to promote art, culture and languages in this part of the world that boasts of cultural diversity.
Growing number of domestic artists of national and international repute though have made Jammu blink on the international art map, there isn’t enough space for them to display their works or take their paintings to next level where they can find support to reach institutions of repute, become part of world’s great art collections or end up in the homes of people who are art lovers to the core. To make this happen, Jammu needs art galleries of international standards for the simple reason that these galleries basically work as ‘beating heart’ of art world.
Galleries in fact play multiple roles to promote art and culture. While art galleries nurture and support artists in multiple ways they besides enabling artists to display their works also provide them a platform to sell their works and manage financial aspects or publish books, hold seminars and interactions that take them to a level of competitive spirit. The gallery’s expansion, if done in Jammu, will not only help our artists display their works but also bring to us the world of paintings from different schools of India.
Though national as well as international level art camps and workshops organised at Kala Kendra, in the lawns of Abhinav Theatre of Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL), at J&K Institute of Music and Fine Arts (IMFA) or in some private art galleries have been making artists from across the country to descend here to paint, sculpt or display their works, yet they all need certain happening places that stay’s abuzz with cultural activities round the year.
Multicity support network
Jammu, despite its expansion by all means, had not been able to bring to life existing art galleries or rope in private entrepreneurs into this world of art, culture and languages. Art lovers own such infrastructure in other parts of the country need to be imitated here or invited to invest in J&K. Lack of interest into art world or poor financial returns too are reasons why local investors here in Jammu feel discouraged to pump in money in art world. Hardly any domestic entrepreneur has ever cared to venture into this foray.
Another reason why artists don’t get paid for their works as per their expectation is that there are no art auction houses in Jammu and at the same time there are no art dealers, curators or exhibitors which is why artists prefer to take their works to galleries in capital or metropolitan cities to get a fair price of their works and also display paintings or sculptors in professionally handled art galleries which serve as institutions. Had there been such a facility available here in our own town, artists could have been regularly engaged in work they feel excited about and achieve “innovations.”
We also need a mechanism in place wherein small or local art galleries can collaborate with other galleries at national level to help create a “multicity support network” for artists. Ideally, strength of galleries lies in knowing what’s going on in the art world, how artists can be helped and how the artists are kept engaged while ensuring that more sold-out shows are held, placements of artists into public collections is done and prestigious private collections and acceptance into higher-profile art fairs organised from time to time.
Art Galleries
Dogra Art Museum, Jammu
Inaugurated as Dogra Art Gallery by Dr. Rajender Prasad, the then President of India on 18th of April, 1954 at Gandhi Bhawan, Jammu, the gallery has very recently been shifted to new renovated/restored halls at Mubarak Mandi complex. This art gallery having largest, rare and costliest collection of series of Basholi paintings, manuscripts and artefacts including terracotta heads from Akhnoor and sculptors is one of the finest art galleries of Jammu and Kashmir. This gallery with due course of time was upgraded to a full-fledged museum and stayed in Pink Hall of Mubarak Mandi complex for about 31 years before moving to its present location.
Known world over for its collection of miniature paintings, especially series of Basholi paintings it also houses rare collection of numismatics, manuscripts, Dogra costumes, jewellery, arms and allied art works bringing to the foreground many historical facts. Though art gallery in this museum displays many important collections yet it needs to encourage private players to exhibit their works from time to time to make this place a vibrant institution.
Now that the Dogra Museum has moved to a new place it can afford to spare some space for display of art works including paintings, sculptors and photographs by renowned artists from across the country and specially Jammu and Kashmir. Since the museum is being managed by Directorate of Archives, Archaeology and Museums that comes under Ministry of Tourism and Culture, Jammu and Kashmir Government, certain provisions can be made to welcome private players to collaborate and display art works of known artists regularly.
Renowned artist Master Sansar Chand Baru was appointed as first Curator (Head) of Dogra Museum which now houses his art works as well. Besides his art works, the museum today has a collection of rare Rasmanjari series of the Basohli miniature paintings and some rare manuscripts including Shahnama and Sikandernama written in Persian language. This gallery if starts holding art camps in the premises of Mubarak Mandi lawns, the place can be made more vibrant.
Kala Kendra, Jammu
Going by the space, galleries, lawns and allied facilities available, this perhaps is the only place in Jammu that houses art works of renowned artists from across the country and also holds exhibitions and art camps occasionally. Despite its gigantic size, the place is unable to do justice with artists or their art works. Presently about 300 works of different artists including painters, sculptors and photographers are lying in the stores of Kala Kendra at centrally located Bikram Chowk unattended.
The building constructed in 2005 and maintained by Jammu Development Authority (JDA) today houses Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL), a district library and department of archives, archaeology and museums. Though several art camps and workshops besides exhibitions keep the place abuzz with activities yet the frequency is so low that artists and art lovers both loose a connect and charm to visit the galleries regularly.
Once the shabby walls, poor lighting and not so clean galleries are uplifted, the place surely will start attracting artists from across the country to display their works here. The place though first of its kind in the state is having everything required in art galleries it yet needs some clean washrooms and well-maintained lawns. All five halls including the entrance are always used as galleries but many acclaimed artists on the condition of anonymity claim that the very basic design of the building is not as per standards of any good art gallery.
Instead of giving the place to private players for pitching their tents for exhibitions, the JKAACL must make it an exclusive place for artists. Lack of resources is always given as prime reason of poor upkeep of the complex but no one owns responsibility of not keeping the art works properly, not keeping walls and floors clean, not maintaining lawns or locking hundreds of artworks including paintings, wooden and stone sculptures in halls. With no signage on stone sculptures or shabbily kept paintings works of most of the acclaimed artists is being disrespected which surely hurts the sentiments of artists.
JKAACL Art Gallery
This gallery located beneath the staircase of main auditorium of Abhinav Theatre was once a happening place. Artists used to display their works here in this gallery which too had meagre lighting arrangement to satisfy the quench of artists. However, with the passage of time and new galleries coming up in the city, this place lost its sheen and is today a dump yard of JKAACL where they have kept their material under lock and key. If maintained and restored to its lost glory this pace too can be utilised by budding artists to display their works and keep the place abuzz with art related activities.
Amar Mahal Museum
The Amar Mahal Palace, built in the nineteenth century for Raja Amar Singh, a Dogra king houses an art gallery as well. Four of its rooms today house rarest collection of Pahari miniature and Kangra miniature paintings besides Mahabharata epic scenes. The art works of renowned Indian artists like M.F. Hussain, J.Swaminathan, G. R. Santosh, Bikash Battacharjee, Sir Shobha Singh and Laxman Pai have also been displayed in the gallery. The place had also been encouraging artists by providing them the gallery for displaying their works.
Paintings of Hindu epic stories of Nala Damayanti, Dashavatara paintings, family portraits of the Dogra rulers of Jammu and Kashmir and many artefacts are also on display in this museum cum art gallery. The Museum encourages artists to the extent that it hosts several exhibitions, book release events and allied cultural events. Inaugurated by the late Prime minister of India, Indira Gandhi on 13 April 1975, the place today promotes book readings, lectures, film shows and hobby classes besides scholarly exchanges and workshops.
Lotsava Rinchen BzangpoArt Gallery
Along with the construction of General Zorawar Singh Auditorium, an art gallery named after a great scholar Lotsava Rinchen Bzangpo who established about 108 monasteries (Gompas) throughout Ladakh, Western Tibet and Lahul Spiti (Himachal Pradesh) areas was also established in the modern and magnificent complex. Known as father of Buddhist culture in Ladakh, Rinchen Bzangpo, he had ensured that all monasteries house wall paintings, frescos, thangkas, pahari miniature paintings and some very rare photographs besides artefacts that depict rich culture of Buddhists besides other regions.
To pay an everlasting tribute to him the Jammu University dedicated the gallery to his name and added works that depict art, history and culture of all three region of erstwhile state, now two UTs. Besides contemporary paintings, this gallery houses rare black and white photographs by Satti Sahni, sketches and paintings donated by renowned artists and art historians like Prof. S.D.S Charak and Serbjeet Singh. Though gallery is well maintained yet it is needed to open its doors for other artists to display their works on regular basis so that the place provides an interactive platform to the people from art world.
Shri Ganesha Art Gallery
A private gallery established by Dr. Raj Kumar Sharma, renowned senior consultant and diabetologist, the Shri Ganesha Art Gallery provides almost 800 sft space with floating walls and is an ideal location for artists to display their works. An artist himself, the Doctor established the gallery to not only satisfy his liking for the art but also to promote artists of Jammu and Kashmir so that a place could be developed for the artists and by the artists. His works of Ganesha paintings are known for their colour combinations and designs. Inaugurated by union minister in the PMO, Dr. Jitendra Singh the place though exhibits original art works yet the place needs adequate exposure to make it a real happening place. The efforts of Dr Raj Kumar cannot be downplayed for the reason that he initiated a step in establishing a private gallery to make others follow the trend. Regretfully, no one could ever come at par with his efforts and Jammu continues to crave for more private art galleries where artists could be encouraged or national or international level camps organised.
Shashvat Art Gallery
Shashvat Art Gallery is the only private art gallery/museum in Jammu that claims to possess over 10,000 manuscripts, 1500 miniature paintings, calligraphic collections and allied artefacts. The gallery though rich in its collections doesn’t have any provision to display artworks of other artists. The Gallery still is having distinction of having rarest Islamic art collections including two rare copies of the Quran. Located at Upper Bazaar Dhaunthly, the gallery today is manned by Dr Suresh Abrol and his family. They claim to possess manuscripts passed on to them by their grandfather Lala Rekhi Ram Abrol who was a jeweller in the court of Maharaja Hari Singh, the last Dogra ruler. This private gallery was stated to be founded by Lala Mast Ram Abrol son of Lala Rekhi Ram Abrol. Those managing gallery had been displaying their artefacts at Srinagar and other places besides participating in national events.
Viraj Kala Kendra
Established way back in 1992 in a private home at Gandhi Nagar, Viraj Kala Kendra, Jammu had been regularly holding art exhibitions, lays and workshops to promote art and culture in Jammu and Kashmir. Raj Bharti, Chairman of Viraj Kala Kendra claims to have established the Kendra with the efforts of herself and her husband Late Vidya Rattan Khajuria, an Eminent Sculpturist of the times.
Vidya Rattan Khajuria was a senior instructor of sculpture department of Institute of Music and Fine Arts (IMFA) Jammu. His passion for his work was so popular amongst his students that they used to throng his home and work till late in the evenings. Seeing her husband’s passion and instinct to impar quality education to his students, Raj Bharti too had joined him in promoting art and culture. This is the reason she till date had been doing her bit to provide space to artists to encourage them at all levels.
Today when acclaimed cartoonists, sculptors, painters, those into handicrafts, pottery works and allied visual art works are running from pillar to post to look for spaces to display their works or hold workshops many of above mentioned galleries do their bit but what’s needed is a smart city with multiple smart centres of excellence that could promote art and culture so that artists here could produce “extraordinary and innovative work”. It’s always important to keep in mind the big picture and that’s why we need to build a smart city with multiple cultural centres where art galleries could prioritize institutional shows and focus on cultivating a dedicated audience for artists.
This if prioritised will be a “watershed moment” in the art galleries’ growth and prove rewarding for all galleries and artists. We need to build an infrastructure that can offer its artists with a huge array of services including archival help, research assistance, photography and publishing and institutional relations. Hope to see a beginning being made in this direction to make City of Temples biggest cultural centre were artists and their works find respectable place!
(The writer is an artist)