Art behind bars - prisoners to showcase paintings in Mumbai

March 8th, 2009 - 12:27 pm ICT by IANS  

By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, March 8 (IANS) Rahul More and Naresh Jadhav are serving life sentences in Pune’s Yerawada Jail. The two may not get to see the light outside the prison walls for a long time to come, but their paintings and sketches, made behind bars, will be out very soon.

For the first time, Mumbai Police has collaborated on an artistic venture involving some prisoners, serving or undertrials, in different jails of the state.

An exhibition of nearly 125 artworks, water colours, pencil and charcoal sketches, by five prisoners and a policeman will open here March 25.

The exhibition is the brainchild of Kavita Shivdasani, a value education expert, a self-learner art student and several top police officials and children of Know Your Environment (KYE).

“We hit upon this idea when I took a group of children to a juvenile remand home in Pune as part of the KYE venture,” Shivdasani, director, KYE, told IANS.

It soon developed into providing talented prisoners a platform and an opportunity to bring out their creativity in different forms, she said.

A series of meetings with top police officers from Mumbai like Additional Director-General of Police (A-DGP) Ahmed Javed, Arthur Road Jail Superintendent Swati Sathe, and several others, gave shape to the unique idea.

After securing various official clearances, Shivdasani, accompanied by Nishant Shah, a chartered accountancy student who loves art as a hobby, got into the act.

“We had gone to Yerawada Jail and found two massive and impressive wall paintings near the entrance, and some paintings in the office of the Inspector General of Prisons (Pune), done by More.

Apart from More and Jadhav, they identified other prisoners who had an artistic touch, and got them to work. They are: Baby John Parker (undertrial, Arthur Road Jail, Mumbai), Lalita Gonugunta (MA in Fine Arts, an undertrial in Nagpur Jail) and a European national, Tatiana Bolomey (undertrial in Byculla Jail, she’s awaiting trial since some time).

“They were quite excited about the idea and readily co-operated with us. Their only request was that since they had no artistic background, we should guide them as and when required,” said Shah.

Around that time, the duo came in touch with a constable serving with Mumbai Police Crime Investigation Department (CID) and his assistant, Ganesh Sonsurkar, both good artists.

“We decided to make the exhibition a joint affair - with the participation of the police and the prisoners. While an undertrial from Arthur Road Jail coined the term ‘Art From Behind Bars’, the same jail’s superintendent, Swati Sathe completed it with - ‘and from those who put them there’,” said Shivdasani.

Since the past year, the prisoners and the policeman got down to work for the big chance to display their talent to the outside world, but they lacked even the most basic resources.

“We all pitched in with Rs.50 each as our contribution, over a dozen of our KYE donated their pocket money and went on a door-to-door campaign to collect funds, several past students pitched in with different types of resources to raise over Rs.100,000 for the total expenses that went into the exhibition,” said Shivdasani.

Even the managers of the well-known Kamalnayan Bajaj Art Gallery at Nariman Point in south Mumbai helped out - by a discounted rent for the week-long expo. It will be inaugurated by Maharashtra’s Inspector-General of Police (Prisons) Udhav Kamble March 25, Shivdasani said.

Shah, who provided the creative inputs to the prisoners for polishing their thoughts on paper and canvas is pleased with the final outcome.

“Remember, they have no artistic background, no books on art to read and learn, they have no exclusive space to develop their creative potential, lack of proper light and limited time after doing their regular prison chores,” he explained.

More came up with five artworks titled, ‘Shringar,’ depicting different aspects of a woman’s beauty. Jadhav has contributed a water colour series of six paintings on varied themes. Parker has come up with a whopping 45 artworks, ranging from global warming to terrorism, sufferings of women to tiny Kerala villages where he was born and lived.

Gonugunta has presented seven paintings dealing with oppression of women, while Bolomey has submitted a mini-series of crayon and water colour works done in her spare time in jail on varied subjects.

CID constable Sawant has contributed a collection of pen and ink sketches of the major heritage buildings of Mumbai, while his assistant (not working in the police department), Sonsurkar has come up with sketches of leaders of the Indian freedom movement, contemporary Mumbai scenes and a series on the Khajuraho cave temples.

“Our endeavour is to showcase their talent, not to judge them by what they did in the past, but what they can do in future. We are hoping for a positive response,” Shah said.

Shivdasani said that the proceeds of the exhibition shall go to the prisoners who have dedicated themselves to doing something different, for a different cause.

“If we get a good response, we plan to take the exhibition to other states,” she said.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at

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