The boundary wall of Gurgaon’s Bhondsi jail has recently been adorned with art depicting national symbols of the country, all painted by inmates lodged inside. The wall — 15 feet high and 500 feet wide — now greets officials and visitors with images of the Royal Bengal Tiger, the Banyan Tree, the Lotus flower and the peacock.
“We spent close to two months trying to zero in on the theme for the work, because we wanted to ensure that it was not contradictory or controversial,” said Harinder Singh, who was the superintendent of the prison during the period of the project, but has been transferred since.
The wall art was completed under the supervision of India Vision Foundation, an NGO that has been conducting art and painting classes for inmates at Bhondsi prison since 2013, operating with the idea that “art therapy” can help in reformation of convicts. It was as a result of these classes that the idea of giving inmates a wall to use as a canvas to showcase their work came up.
“In several prisons, art work is done to change the ambience of the facility, but the uniqueness here lies in the identity of the artists who have made the paintings. Usually artists are hired from outside, or students from an art institution are called, but here the inmates themselves have done the work,” said Monica Dhawan, director of India Vision Foundation.
Deliberations on the theme began in February 2016, and eight inmates, all serving life sentences for various crimes, started work on the wall in April 2016, under the supervision of Natasha Chadha Bhambri, an artist associated with the NGO.
“Acrylic paint of the best quality was used for the wall art since it has to have the ability to withstand heat, rain, and other weather conditions. The paint is also strong enough to ensure that for the next two years, we do not need to do any maintenance or touch-ups. After a couple of years, however, these may be required,” said Dhawan.
“Basic work” on the wall was completed within eight months, after which a few weeks were spent in putting the finishing touches. The project was finally completed in March this year, transforming the mundane brick wall into one bursting with colours, and serving as proof of the hidden skills and potential of the inmates.