Delhi can do with a few more museums, especially of the kind that are independently funded and where artistic excellence is given due importance. A new private museum, opened recently in Delhi’s Jungpura Extension, subscribes to this very model of financial autonomy and high artistic standards.
The facility is an erstwhile artist’s studio which is now turned into a museum. It was used by the late Indian artist Amar Nath Sehgal, who passed away in 2007. Now called the Amar Nath Sehgal Private Collection, the museum, spread across 1,550 sq. ft. area, features most of Sehgal’s oeuvre.
One can find over 1,500 works, including drawings, woodcuts, lithographs, tapestries, as well as ceramic, clay and metal sculptures, by Sehgal, who was awarded Padma Bhushan in 2008. The museum also contains personal archives of the artist, including his letters, documents and around a thousand photographs.
It was Sehgal’s younger son, Rajan Sehgal, who took it upon himself to preserve the memory of his father though this museum. He says, “All through my childhood, my father’s studio acted as a form of escape for me from the mundane school work, homework etc. It allowed me to walk into a world of colours, possibilities, forms, shapes and creativity. All my friends’ fathers wore a tie and a suit and went to an office, whereas my dad wore an overall and went to a studio. It always intrigued me, primarily because I always saw him at peace, by himself, working for hours on end on a sketch, on a painting, on a clay model or sculpture, or just writing poetry. I did work with him a little on clay models and very much enjoyed these experiences and excursions. This periodic form of escapism later turned into the love for the creative arts which I continue to nurture until today.”
According to Rajan, his father always wanted to renovate the studio and modernise it by equipping it with high technology and the latest products—to make it more well-lit, well-designed and a convenient place to work at. But his father’s illness, towards the last few years of his life, forced him to shelve that project. Rajan says, “He continued until the last day to create works and kept his creativity flowing. After he passed away, he willed the studio to me with the intention that I would take care of it, and together with my brother preserve his art and archives. Ever since that this project has been on my mind.”
The artist, who was born in Cambellpur, Pakistan in 1922, came to India during Partition. Much of his art is a retelling of the horrors faced by people during those harrowing years.
Sehgal studied art in Lahore and New York. When he returned to India after three years in New York, he got interested in Indian folk arts and theatre. He travelled across the rural belt in northern India.
Many remember Sehgal as the first Indian artist who won the case “Amar Nath Sehgal v. Union of India” under the copyright law. A bronze mural commissioned by Government of India in the year 1957 was taken down from the Vigyan Bhavan in Delhi in 1979, without bringing it to the notice of the artist. In the process, the sculpture suffered damages and the government didn’t pay heed to the artist’s requests for the restoration of the artwork. Sehgal had filed a petition under Section 57 of the Copyright Act, 1957 in the Delhi High Court for an apology from the defendants and monetary damages which he won.
The artist was well-travelled, funding his journeys with the money he earned by making sculptures commissioned by the Government of India, as the curator Shruthi Isaac told Guardian 20. According to the documents in the museum, Sehgal also contributed a sculpture to Strawberry Fields—New York’s Central Park memorial created by John Lenon’s wife Yoko Ono in memory of her late husband. The sculpture is called The Voice. Sehgal also used to write poetry time and again, and for The Voice, he did the same.
In a September 1980 article in The Gulf News, the artist was quoted as saying, “My motivation is that I try to grasp the spirit of humanity in any way I can—either by synthesising or symbolising a concept in mind, that gives me the form.”
Issac, talks about the museum’s itinerary for the current year. “We are laying great importance on the outreach program in the museum. Starting this March, we will be having two programmes, which we have titled ‘Sculpt Friday’ and ‘Sculpt Talk’. Once a month, we will showcase a movie on the lives of various sculptors. After the movie screening there will be talks and lectures.” Issac feels that the field of sculptures is highly neglected by the Indian contemporary art fraternity, and her idea is to involve students interested in art and introduce them to sculpture. Following this event, the museum will host a series of conversations on installation art.
Architect Vipul Kacker from Kacker and Associates, who designed the museum, speaks to Guardian 20 on the challenges he faced while creating the space. “It was different from the other buildings we designed because it was a combination of residential space and museum. Though the workspace existed, it was more like a storage space. The challenge was to modernise the whole thing and still keep the essence of his studio intact. The viewing angles were taken care of in order to see the works easily even from a distance. The museum needed a lot of artificial lighting but we have kept it mellow so that it doesn’t take the attention away from the artworks.”
Visitors need to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for a private tour of the museum
All images are credited to Amar Nath Sehgal Private Collection