The institution has been a home ground for the biggies in art — from Manjit Bawa to Subodh Gupta. Garhi Studios can boast of a line of illustrious occupants. Located in the heart of the Capital, in East of Kailash, it was the meeting point for artists, not just for practice but also for discussions. Now, the crumbling studios do no more than speak of the glorious past. The palms lining its pathway have withered and dust covers sculptures stationed at the entrance. Established in 1976 as an institution that would meet the needs of artists from across India, Garhi Studios now lies in shambles.
After years of petitions from artists to improve the state of the art at the studios, Lalit Kala Akademi — which manages the premises — is now planning a revamp. “It is supposed to be a place for innovative art practice, and we want it to be that,” says KK Chakravarty, Chairman of the Akademi, pointing out that reasonable rental rates are an attraction. The website lists rent of Rs 600 per month for an old shared studio, Rs 150 for a community studio and Rs 300 for new shared studio. More than 200 artists can be allotted studio at a time.
The procedure for renovation and revamp has begun, but on a bitter note for some artists who have been asked to vacate the premises. “There were several people occupying the studios for the last 30-35 years, allotment should be done on basis of merit,” says Satyapal, Regional Secretary of Garhi Regional Centre. Chakravarty adds, “We also want to open it up to more tribal and folk artists who need a platform.”
So the old shared studios and new shared studios are sealed. Locked doors have High Court notices asking artists to vacate. Community studios are open to artists, all of whom were given admission last year. “Space will only be allotted for a year. Only those who actively use the facility and make an impression with their work will be given a renewal. Temporary allotment will be given to visiting artists for a month,” says Satyapal, adding that a jury will screen the applicants.
Even as he waits for repair work to commence next week, the blueprint is ready. “It ranges from complete renovation in the old studios to minor repair in the community studios,” says Satyapal. Ram Kumar, an artist from Chennai, points out that though the community studios were repaired in 2011, water seepage remains a major irritant. Devidas Khatri, who first applied for a studio in Garhi over a decade ago, adds, “It is good that the old occupants have been asked to leave. It was dictatorship and illegal occupation.” He now shares a community studio with three others.
The evicted artists are, meanwhile, crying foul. Gogi Saroj Pal, who has had a studio in Garhi since 1977, says, “This equates to bullying artists. We have been working there since years. It was a space started by Jawaharlal Nehru to allow artists to work, and that is what we were doing. They can give a makeshift space during renovation, what is the need to evict us?”
In his office, Satyapal defends the decision to vacate the studios. He envisions Garhi as a space for newer talent. Cultural activities are also on the anvil — from exhibitions to film festivals and summer workshops for children. Meanwhile, Manju Tomar in the community studio has a request. “We need an electric kiln,” she says. Chakravarty has made a note. “We will be upgrading. We are also planning a library and research center and national and international residencies,”