Nek Chand- a name that the city of Chandigarh identifies itself with- is no more, leaving a void behind for art enthusiasts who took inspiration from his style of work. A self-taught artist, he believed in recycling waste materials and put them into creative use.
Hailing from the Shakargarh region (presently in Pakistan) of Gurudaspur district, he moved to Chandigargh with his family in 1947 during the partition. The city was getting a new look under the flagship of Swiss/French architect Le Corbusier.
The first planned city of the country, Chand found work as a roads inspector for the Public Works Department in 1951, which is when he started working with the concrete waste.
In his free time, Chand collected demolition waste from construction sites and started making an imaginary world of the Sukrani , choosing a gorge in the forest area near the Sukhna lake as his workshop. The forest was under government conservancy and did not allow any construction at the site.
Although Chand was able to hide the site for 18 years, its discovery in 1975 threatened the existence of his (by then) 13 acre masterpiece. Made of concrete, bricks, cement, glass pieces and other recycled material, the park got public support and the government was bound to spare it.
Once the park was inaugurated as a public space, Nek Chand was given a salary and the designation 'Sub-Divisional Engineer, Rock Garden'. He was also assigned a workforce of 50 labourers so that he could concentrate full-time on his work. His works were so acclaimed that they appeared on an Indian stamp in 1983.
The Rock garden stood like a rock
While achieving the confidence of the government was just one step in the mileage of the garden, there were other obstacles to overcome. When Chand went out of the country for a lecture in 1996, his garden was vandalised and the city withdrew its funds toward the garden. This time too, the public stool by this creative genius and saved the garden.
Exhibitions and displays
Chand's statues are known world-wide and have been exhibited at the Capitol Children's Museum in Washington, DC, the American Folk Art Museum in New York City and the main entrance to the Collection de l'art brut in Lausanne, Switzerland. The John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin, USA owns the largest collection of Chand's work outside of Chandigarh.
London has a Nek Chand Foundation that is responsible for raising funds for the garden.