HYDERABAD: The cold chill of prison bars, the dark crimes whispering in corners of stone slabs, the punishments – all that can send a sharp shiver down anyone’s spine. And while you might get that eerie feeling visiting a jail-turned-into-museum, you might still get that same feeling when you view artworks by jail inmates of Chanchalguda Prison at the State Gallery of Art.
Yes, you heard it right. Prisoners, who are under reforms, are displaying their works till February 14 at the gallery. The show is a venture of Telangana State Prisons and Krishnakriti Foundation.
On the pristine walls of the gallery you see paintings in different genres. Some are surreal, some figurative while a few realistic enough to denote minute perceptions of minds that do not cease to seek a sense of aesthetics even in a weed sprouting from forsaken corners of jail.
One of the paintings, clearly, is in the quest of self-realisation with an angry face, with its eyes glowing red behind which lurk shadows of dark human side, the brutal, raw psyche: immeasurable and often uncontrollable. The face is divided with the lines: of rage with brutal animal fury about to release. The clenched teeth in the painting are part of the journey of self-realisation the prisoner-artist may have experienced. And while looking around when he perceives the rigid cold of locks. It has de-humanises him, bringing him close to a feeling that plunges him deeper to the pit that exists both in his mind and in the records.
There are more paintings in the gallery. But how did priosners’ work land in an art gallery?
Prashant Lahoti of Krishnakriti Foundation shares, “Sayyad Shaiek, a Krishnakriti Foundation scholarship winner and painter used to go to Chanchaguda Jail and sit with the jail inmates everyday for three months as part of the prisoners reform project. The jail inmates made 1,000 paintings and we selected 75 out of these.”
The 25 painters are all male in the age group of 20 to 40 years. The next step of the prisoners reform project is to bring out the painters in jail inmates of Cherlapally and Warangal jails.
Talking more about this, V.K. Singh the Director General of Prisons and Correctional Services said, “We organised the painting training sessions for two reasons – to increase the revenue to the state prisons department; and to change the mindset of people. We organised training both for the prisoners who are still serving their term and those who have completed their term; 90 per cent of the revenue will go to the released prisoner while 10 per cent goes to the gallery. Those who are still serving the term will get a different share.” He added, “So far there have been 10 purchases. If the exhibition works well then we will make it a monthly affair.”
The first abandoned Telangana jail to be turned into a museum is Sangareddy Jail, which has a 218 year old history. “It will be inaugurated on February 24,” confirms VK Singh. On the advisory board of this project are officials from Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and Salar Jung Museum. “According to PWD records way back in the time of Nizams it was a stable. As we disseminated more information by translating very old documents written in Urdu and Persian, we found that during the Nizams’ reign it was well maintained by kotwals, daftedars, ameens and jimedars. Some freedom fighters during the British Raj served their terms here. The freedom fighter Gadila Lingaya Goud was jailed here,” says Santosh Rai, Jail Superintendent of Sangareddy Jail. This will be country first jail to be turned into museum.