The Maharashtra Prisons Department will soon form a panel, including artists and experts from Sir JJ School of Art, to ascertain the value of prisoners’ artwork. The decision was taken to ensure that the department bags the market value of the paintings put on sale. Also, it will ward off corruption allegations levelled by jailed artists, accusing the department of undervaluing their art and siphoning off sales proceeds.
Sources said one of the major forces behind this move had been internationally acclaimed artist Chintan Upadhyay, lodged at Thane jail on charges of murdering his estranged wife, Hema, and her lawyer, Harish Bhambhani. Last year, after Upadhyay started showing signs of depression, the jail authorities had asked him to take up painting and impart lessons to his fellow inmates. Since then, Upadhyay has created several artworks, including a mural and graffiti. One of his paintings was bought by Bollywood director and producer Kiran Rao for Rs 4.5 lakh. Till date, the Prisons Department has earned over Rs 10 lakh by selling artwork of jailed artists.
Recently, under the guidance of Upadhyay, nine inmates from Thane jail painted a large graffiti titled ‘Process of decay’, depicting 10 stories. The paintings were part of a recent exhibition held by jail authorities. The creations have not been sold yet, as the department has written to JJ School of Art to evaluate them.
“We, at the Prisons Department, are not experts on such matters. Also, when a painting is made by a renowned artist, the value differs. We have decided to form a panel, including artists and experts from Sir JJ School of Arts, before putting out an artwork on sale,” said an official, who did not wish to be named. “This is also to ensure that there is transparency and we are not hounded with any allegation of corruption by jailed artists for undervaluing their artwork and pocketing the money,” added the official.
Inspector General of Police (Prisons), Rajvardhan Sinha, said: “We are planning to get them on board so that artwork is sold at the right price.”
“Whenever a painting is sold, an authenticity certificate, which includes a photograph of the painting, name of the artist, selling price and the jail where the inmate is lodged, is issued. The money is deposited in the accounts maintained by jail staff. While 50 per cent goes to the prisoner’s kin, the remaining 50 per cent goes into the Prisoners’ Welfare Fund,” said another official on condition of anonymity. “
This money is available to the prisoner for use whenever he or she is released from jail or in some cases transferred to the family members if the prisoner wishes so. In whatever little way it may be, the money helps prisoners to start afresh after stepping out of the jail,” added the official.
In August last year, after completing the requisite formalities, an NGO supplied art materials to the inmates. Upadhyay conducted a nearly month-long session and by the end of it, a 2 x5 feet tall graffiti named ‘process of decay’ and 17 paintings have been put together by Upadhyay and his students.