The story of Nek Chand’s Rock Garden of Chandigarh is an auspicious one. Chand started building the 25-acre sculpture and architecture project in secret while he was working as a road inspector in 1952. He worked on his vision in his off hours and the park survived at least two attempts by the local government to close it. With its 2,000 statutes set amid constructed waterfalls and amphitheaters, the Rock Garden remains a treasured public art and tourist attraction, outsider art on a grand scale by someone who devoted his entire life to a single vision.
Nek Chand died of a heart attack on June 12; he was 90. His passing was noted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who said: “Nek Chand-ji will always be remembered for his artistic genius and fabulous creation that is cherished by many. May his soul rest in peace.”
The Guardian’s obituary describes the scale of the Garden for the uninitiated:
“Having embarked on a mission to turn waste into beauty, Chand used broken crockery, iron foundry clinker, electric plug moulds, fluorescent tubes, bicycle frames, bottles, glass bangles, shells, cooking pots and smashed up bathroom fittings to create his wonderland.
“His figures of queens and courtiers, beggars and ministers, schoolchildren, revellers and dancers, monkeys, elephants and camels are set in different chambers linked by low arches and covered in mosaic. There are also hundreds of strange-shaped rocks installed in meandering lanes, two huge waterfalls, deep gorges, rushing streams, a model Punjabi village, an amphitheatre and a colonnade of giant swings. More than 5,000 visitors a day cram the pathways and dramatic gorges.”
Chand started to build his Garden on the sly in a forest clearing in 1958. He managed to keep the (illegal) display a secret for 15 years before city authorities discovered it. For the first (but not the only) time in the Garden’s history, people rallied support for Chand and the project survived. By 1976 Chand was working on the project full-time.
City officials tried suffocating the project in the late 1980s. The Garden had no funding and when Chand left on a trip to the United States in 1996 his remaining staff members were taken away. However, his community and international volunteers from the Nek Chand Foundation continued to staff the Garden. The project remains.
From The New York Times:
“It (the Garden) stands in contrast to the striking if neglected government buildings conceived by Le Corbusier, who planned Chandigarh — the capital of the states of Punjab and Haryana — in the 1950s.
“For some, the Rock Garden, which has thousands of visitors a day, is an antidote to what, with its stark Modernist buildings, is seen as something of a bureaucrat’s city.
“‘It has made Chandigarh complete,’ said Rupan Deol Bajaj, a retired bureaucrat from Punjab who has been an advocate of protecting the garden. ‘It has given a soul to the city.'”
We’ve assembled a gallery of images that highlight his use of ceramics as well as videos from the Garden in honor of Chand’s work.
Bill Rodgers is a Contributing Editor at CFile.
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