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Art gallery in name of Sobha Singh now a DSP office; Punjab artists call for restoring its lost glory

Today is the 121st birth anniversary of the celebrated artist who is known for his artistic excellence in the depiction of Sikh history and Punjabi life. The walls that once sported Sobha Singh's paintings now have shelves stacked with crime files.

sobha singh galleryThe converted gallery (L) and Sobha Singh (R).

Twentieth-century Indian painter Sobha Singh is known for his artistic excellence in the depiction of Sikh history and Punjabi life. But sadly, on the occasion of the 121st birth anniversary of the celebrated artist, who has painted the famous portraits of Sri Guru Nanak Dev, Sri Guru Gobind Singh, Lord Sri Krishna, Bride of Kangra, Devi of Prabhat, and the beautiful Mahinwal, his hometown of Sri Hargobindpur in Gurdaspur district paints a sorry picture of neglect to the acclaimed artist.

Sobha Singh Art Gallery and Library, which was set up in his native place to pay tributes to the great artist a year after his death, now functions as the office of the deputy superintendent of police (DSP). The foundation stone for the gallery laid by the then Punjab chief minister Surjit Singh Barnala on September 26, 1987, has now taken the shape of a wall for the DSP office. The walls that once sported Sobha Singh’s paintings now have shelves stacked with files on crime.

Board of DSP office outside art gallery. (Express)

Today art lovers from the Gurdaspur district, including Inderjit Singh Harpura, Kulwinder Singh Ladi, Prof. Jasbir Singh, Vicky Bhatia, Varinderpreet Singh, Anurag Mehta, Sukhdev Singh, advocate H S Mangat, Asa Singh, Balwinder Singh Panjgarai and Gurpreet Singh, have demanded the government to restore the lost glory of Sobha Singh Art Gallery.

“Sobha Singh, the painter who depicted Sikh history is known to the whole world. But most of the residents in Sri Hargobindpur Sahib have forgotten Sobha Singh,” lamented Baldev Singh Randhawa, president of Heritage Manch Batala.

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Sobha Singh was born on November 29, 1901 at the historical and religious town of Sri Hargobindpur Sahib located on the banks of Beas River.

Foundation stone of art gallery is now part of wall. (Express)

Due to his passion for painting since childhood, Singh joined an arts and crafts course at Amritsar at the age of 14. He joined the army as a draughtsman in 1919. During his military service, he stayed in Baghdad where he came in contact with Western painters.

He returned to India after being discharged from military service in 1923 and started working as a freelance artist in Amritsar. Singh came to Lahore in 1926 and then shifted to Delhi. Twelve years later he came to Amritsar again and started teaching fine arts. After some time, Singh joined the army again and became a publicity officer, and started living in Shimla.

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In 1945, he returned to Lahore where he worked as an art director for a film. After the Partition of 1947, he moved to Andretta (Himachal Pradesh) on the invitation of Noorha Richard, and settled there for the rest of his life. Andretta, where Sobha Singh’s descendants currently reside, has a beautiful art gallery in memory of the artist.

The artist passed away on August 22, 1986, at the age of 86.

Once the gallery was launched, art lovers started thronging the place to admire and study Sobha Singh’s paintings and read books in the library. The gallery hosted art festivals for some years.

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However, in the late 1980s the building was captured by the security forces who were in Punjab to rein in militancy. They used the gallery as their camping station, after which all the paintings gradually started vanishing. Some of the books in the library went missing and others were destroyed. After the security forces left, the building was converted into ‘patwarkhana’ (revenue office) and then into a sub-tehsil office in the 2000s. Later, the police department took possession of the space.

First published on: 29-11-2022 at 16:20 IST
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