Outsider Artist - Nek Chand

Of all the visionary environments in the world there is none as spectacular, as vast, as that created by Nek Chand in Chandigarh, northern India. Nek Chand, like so many other Outsider artists, was fascinated with strangely shaped stones. He felt that within them they expressed the personalities of regal figures, of ordinary people, of animals and birds, and he built up a vast collection of thousands of examples. His other raw material was urban and industrial waste.


Nek Chand believes that in Nature everything is used, even fallen leaves go back to enrich the soil, similarly the waste of a city should be recycled back into use once more. He had moved to Chandigarh in 1951, after losing his home and native village in the 1948 partition of India, to work on the vast construction of the new city designed by Le Corbusier. In this process, a mass of waste was created by the demolition of over 20 villages, and numerous other buildings, to clear the ground for the new town.


In 1958, Nek Chand, who was working as a Roads Inspector for the Chandigarh Public Works Department, made for himself a little clearing in the thick undergrowth outside the city and began to collect together the stones and the waste materials that he knew he would be using, storing them in a little hut he had built. He had already had a dream showing him that this location was once the site of a glorious kingdom and he was to create his own kingdom of kings and queens.


He had access to waste dumps in his Department and after his working day he brought materials and stones back to his clearing on the back of a bicycle. So began one of the most momentous achievements of individual human creativity in modern times. By 1965, he was ready to begin his kingdom. The land he was working on was not his own, but a Government area where no development or building of any kind was permitted. Unlike other Indian cities, Chandigarh was carefully planned and only authorised development was permitted.


Nek Chand set his stones around the little clearing and before long had sculpted his first figures, made of cement with an outer skin of broken bangles. Gradually the creation developed and grew; before long the sculptures and stones covered several acres. After his working day as a roads inspector ended, he worked alone in the undergrowth. He cleared the land and built his environment. Day after day, and at night by the light of burning tyres, he worked in total secrecy for fear of being discovered by the authorities. Apart from his wife Kamla and a few trusted friends nobody was aware what Nek Chand was doing.


When in 1972, a Government working party began clearing the jungle they came across acres of stones and statues. Almost two thousand sculptures of various sizes inhabited the undergrowth. Amazed by what they had discovered, local government officials were thrown into turmoil. Nek Chand’s creation was completely illegal a development in a forbidden area which by rights should be demolished. Within a few days of his discovery everyone in Chandigarh knew about the extraordinary creations in the forest. Hundreds flocked to see them and Nek Chand received his first reactions from the world.


Although many city officials were outraged, local business men offered Chand free materials and transport and with this extra assistance he was able to embark on the First Phase of the environment proper. He formed a series of small courtyards to display his natural rocks and sculptures. As his creation developed so did the support and interest of the citizens of Chandigarh.


He was now in a position to start work on the Second Phase, a series of large courtyards, many coated in a mosaic of natural stone or broken ceramic linked by winding paths and low archways. The armatures for much of his sculpture were made from old cycle parts; saddles became animal heads, forks became legs, frames became bodies. For his extensive areas of mosaic, he used not only broken crockery and tiles but whole bathrooms. He has built walls of oil drums, electric plug moulds and of old fluorescent tubes. His figures are clothed in thousands of broken glass bangles, in mosaic, or in foundry slag, even feathers.


In addition to the cement and concrete creations he also produces great quantities of animals and figures out of old rags and discarded clothing. These giant rag dolls are usually full size constructions with strong metal armatures. The interiors consist of hundreds of tightly bound rags, giving a rigidity and strength unusual in this medium. Nek Chand developed complex and extensive methods of waste collection with many different collection points to form one of the largest recycling programmes in Asia.  And still he continues to work, now on the Third Phase of the Rock Garden...


Outisder Artists are unique creators in our times. Total outside of professional institutions of art, they have no formal training or degrees. Even more importantly, they choose to make and showcase their work in spaces other than art galleries and museums. Some of the most innovative and powerful creations today are by such ‘mad’ visionaries. Read more about Outsider Art and Artists at www.rawvision.com