Once a hub of artists and ideas,the refugee studio tries to reclaim its past
No.26,Gole Market is a crumbling building,with a melancholy that only old places going to seed have. Snapping at its heels is the bustle of modern marketsa Nirulas joint,shops and apartments. Inside is the refugee studio,a landmark for Delhis artist community. In 1947,one of modern Indias first big artists and an inspired teacher,Bhabesh Chandra Sanyal,moved from Lahore to Delhi. Two years into his stay here,the government gave him a room with a view on the first-floor of the building,which he turned into refugee studio. It was a meeting point for promising artists like Satish Gujral and Krishen Khanna,both students of Sanyal,where Sanyal taught,worked and debated art.
Artists such as Ram Kumar,Shailoz Mukherjee,K.S. Kulkarni,Dinkar Kowshik would visit,work in the studio and discuss art. It was a hub for artists and students. Even Indira Gandhi visited the studio. Later,many artists held exhibitions at the studio and it came to be known as Gallery 26, says noted glass artist Vijay Kowshik,who now works from the studio.
But memories are not the only thing alive in the studio. Since January,a group of artists,academicians and architects gather at the studio on the second Saturday of the month,to discuss art. When we dropped in to one such gathering we found a group of 13 artists poring over two works of Ram Kinkar,one of the great moderns of contemporary Indian art,from Kowshiks personal collection. While some marvelled at the smoke rising from a train as it hurtled from the tunnel in one watercolour,others wondered about the inspiration.
The discussions kicked off on January 10,a day after BC Sanyals death anniversary. Sanyal passed away on January 9,2003. Kowshik says he wants to make the neighbourhood what it was beforea cultural hub where artists,academicians,architects relive the old times to discuss serious art. During the time of B.C. Sanyal,the place housed a publication house called Eastern Publishers which drew lots of readers. People used to come and read. There were some books on art as well. Some music classes were held too,and the place seemed alive, recalls Kowshik,who used to visit the studio as a child. His father,renowned painter Dinkar Kowshik,was a close friend of Sanyal.
The studio is the one bright spot in the building,which mostly houses run-down shops,a photography studio and a P.T. studio,though there are plans to restore it. Five years back,I notified chief minister Sheila Dikshit about the state of the building. However,all the occupants have been given an eviction notice and the case is pending in the NDMC court. There are plans to turn the building into a sort of museum with curio shops. We are ready to cooperate with the restoration but the building should be returned to the occupants,the shop-owners,says Kowshik.
The discussions in the studio almost often veer to old times. Ruing the lack of cultural spaces in Delhi,Dr Ranjan K. Ghosh,a former teacher of philosophy,says,Mandi House is the only place and that too seems saturated. In the late 70s,the Central Park place had an artists piazza on Sunday when artists from all over Delhi would come along with their easels and paint. Up next,the members plan to hold an artist camp. Poetry readings are also in the offing. And hope for better times.
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