Rotting ‘Kala (at) Kendra’

Sunny Dua
In the words of acclaimed painter of Jammu and Kashmir State and former member executive board of Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi, Suman Gupta when over 45 artists drawn from different states of India had descended at Jammu Kala Kendra in 2005 to participate in national art camp, they were all awestruck to see the magnificent building and splendid lawns besides facilities available here. The artists, he said had a great time carving stones, wood and spreading colours on their canvases which later became treasure of Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and Languages (JKAACL).
However, decades later today that same treasure (Artwork) is rotting in Kala Kendra lawns and it’s shabby rooms which too have lost their sheen. Work of not even a single artist of national repute can be identified because of the reason that most of the artworks including sculptors and paintings are lying abandoned in most haphazardous manner in rooms and lawns of this huge structure called Kala Kendra at Bikram Chowk. There is no signage displayed for any of the sculpture that could speak of artists’ pain that had gone into the making of these masterpieces for Jammu and Kashmir State.
The place if developed could have been most visited art centre in Jammu and Kashmir State because of its ideal location and infrastructure which today is in dilapidated condition and virtually on ventilator, to speak in medical terms. Since nothing is in order and few exhibitions keep the place little active, artists find some solace. Broadly speaking no artists of national or international repute prefers to display their works here because of shabby walls, poor lighting and not so clean galleries.
Suman Gupta who’s a renowned painter says that it’s a fact that the condition of Kala Kendra is dilapidated where washrooms are not functional and in absence of air conditioning art work also gets damaged because of humid climatic conditions. ‘No serious artist would ever want to display his artwork in this gallery because of shabby walls and poor lighting but more than government it’s the artists who are to be blamed for this neglect’, he believes.
According to Mushtaq Kak no art gallery is ever constructed with such huge windows but since engineers of that time did not care to take artists into confidence or visited any art gallery in other states they preferred to raise a structure according to their own imagination and named it ‘Kala Kendra’. “This is the reason ‘Kala’ is rotting in this ‘Kendra’, he regretted. When contacted he said, ‘this wrongly constructed building has failed to deliver on its function and has become a very costly affair to maintain now. It’s a building that’s without its soul”.
Despite located at an ideal place in Bikram Chowk, Kala Kendra is not serving its purpose. The building houses three departments that include JKAACL, district library and department of archives, archaeology and museums. The academy has about two employees while district library and department of museum has considerable strength but when it comes to maintaining the building everyone passes the buck. Jammu Development Authority (JDA) which had constructed the building also stays away from it on the pretext of having handed over the building to JKAACL way back in 2005.
Another fact about the building is that about 30 kanals of land under occupation of J&K State Road Transport Corporation (SRTC) yard located next to the wall was supposed to be transferred to the Society for building a planetarium, an auditorium and open air theatre. These facilities or complexes were part of complete plan of Kala Kendra which was to come up at this site but nothing matured.
The complex today is hired by various other departments who pitch tents in the lawns and exhibit their products including handicrafts and solar lights besides holding private exhibitions as well. This is another reason that the place has been reduced to a mere empty space for public but not serving the real purpose of promoting art, culture and languages. Since no one owns the building, it’s decaying and the structure that has been reduced to a mere ‘White Elephant’ is withering.
Barring a few events held occasionally most of galleries stay empty, shabby halls and corridors tease ‘Swatch Bharat Campaign’ and the place doesn’t even blink on tourism or art map of India. “Since Governor Satya Pal Malik is the Chairman of Kala Kendra Society, he must intervene and handover the complete building to one department for its maintenance and making it functional so that it could be put to optimum use”, said Mushtaq Kak.
When contacted an official of the JKAACL on the condition of anonymity said that the academy has been asked to upkeep the complex but whatever within the give resources is possible is done like cleaning, sweeping or maintaining works. Other than this we try to hold exhibitions of artists and when the galleries are not hired we display artists’ works on rotational basis so that galleries stay alive’, he added saying that’s the best we could do.
The opulence expected of anyone that owned this building of such a stature was great but since it’s not being maintained the essence of that pride is gone. The situation is so grim that regular sweeping of floors and cleaning of galleries has become practically impossible besides knee high grass and weeds in the rear lawns doesn’t permit anyone to visit the place. Lighting brackets and tube lights inside the building are damaged, garden lights don’t exist or are hanging with posts, cobwebs exists on stair cases and floors are not mopped due to which stains are damaging the building with each passing day. Similar is the condition of woodwork wherein expensive polished doors are losing their sheen.
Still worst is the status of artwork housed in this building. Several pieces of artwork including paintings, wooden and stone sculptures are rotting behind locked halls and in open lawns. Some of the stone sculptures have fallen in deep drains and many chipped away while others are rotting and buried in thick grass and weeds. The wooden sculptures and paintings, despite efforts of meagre staff, are gaining dust in a hall on first floor of the building. Though the staff has managed to cover these artefacts with plastic sheets and other means yet they are in bad shape. To add to the woes of artists about five to six decks of photographs duly framed which were invited for competition are stacked in this very hall. It’s been years since these pictures were invited as part of annual competition but, reasons best known to academy officials, these photographs stand dumped in Kala Kendra. The staff has somehow labelled them year wise and decked on chairs to protect pictures that are awaiting a judgement by experts. In a way the Kala Kendra is more of an extended store of JKAACL than an art gallery.
Suman Gupta added that had artists cared to make this as a vibrant institution, the material like easels and lockers purchased by the then minister for culture Priya Sethi would have been put to proper use. She was considerate enough to buy material for Kala Kendra but putting it in proper use was the task of artists who never came forward to establish their studies there. Right at the beginning when over 45 artists drawn from different states of the country had gathered here for a national level camp the enthusiasm was quite high but gradually that spirit fizzled out.
He said if artists have issues with rent or other infrastructure they must come forward and talk to Government to sort it out but they must work on modalities to make this a happening place. Suman Gupta also informed that the very basic design of Kala Kendra is wrong as no gallery ever possesses huge windows as has been provided in this building without consulting any artist. The art work that’s lying there is property of JKAACL and was generated from art camps held during past. Presently about 250 works of different artists are lying unattended here.
Our rich culture needs to be showcased in such places of importance for which the Government and especially department of culture will have to rise above petty politics and begin to take quick decisions. The Louvre Abu Dhabi – an art and civilization museum, located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates which was inaugurated in November 2017 or the Elbphilharmonie – a concert hall in the Hafen City quarter of Hamburg, Germany, on the Grasbrook peninsula of the Elbe River should serve as an example of how the largest and acoustically most advanced exhibition and concert halls in the world are being built and maintained. How sensitive we are towards our heritage or insensitive enough to allow our work to rot is a choice that’s wrests with us!