By Anindita Mukhopadhyay
India’s first contemporary Sculpture Park has opened its palatial doors to the public this December, in the Pink City. The Park is a venue for contemporary art being housed in the Madhavendra Palace that lies at the heart of the Nahargarh Fort. This year, sculptures by both top Indian and international artists will be showcased at the palace. The exhibition is curated by Peter Nagy, Director of Nature Morte Art Ltd., and is planned to be an annual fixture. The initiative is a first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Government of Rajasthan and the non-profit Saat Saath Arts Foundation, with the common aim of embracing our cultural heritage.
The Nahargarh Fort and its palace
The Nahargarh Fort, atop the hills of the Aravalli range, overlooks the city, offering a breathtaking view of the scenic surroundings. It is connected to the Jaigarh Fort through its fortifications, forming a strong defensive ring around the city, along with Amer Fort. Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II–the founding monarch of the city of Jaipur, constructed the Fort in 1734, as a royal retreat. Earlier, named Sudarshangarh Fort, it was later renamed to Nahargarh, meaning “abode of tigers”. However, it is believed that the name pays homage to a Rathore prince–Nahar Singh Bhomia whose spirit haunted and halted the construction of the fort. A temple devoted to the Prince was built inside the fort to pacify the spirit.
The reign of Ram Singh II and his son Sawai Madho Singh witnessed the extension of the Nahargarh Fort. Madhavendra Bhawan, built in 1866, for the king and his nine queens was a two-storey building with individual suites for the king himself, and each of his queens. An amalgamation of Indian and European architecture, it is adorned with beautiful murals and floral motifs, overlooking a long rectangular courtyard within its boundaries.
Historical architecture meets contemporary art
As a testament to the government’s dedication and commitment to promoting public art and the state’s cultural infrastructure, the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Ms Vasundhara Raje, has witnessed the conception of over 30 new cultural projects, including the newly inaugurated Jawahar Kala Kendra, also in Jaipur. The curator, Nagy believes the inspiring location provides the perfect backdrop for contemporary art. “It was important to find something not too large and sprawling, where we would not have been able to maintain a focus. Madhavendra Palace is just so different in its architecture and modernist aesthetics; it provided us with the focus we needed.”
Its majestic quarters showcase the works of nine international and fifteen Indian artists. With no specific theme, the sculptures span a wide spectrum of everyday use objects that range from a reimagined Ambassador car by Subodh Gupta, and a massive bronze image of the humours titled “Choleric, Phlegmatic, Melancholy, Sanguine” by Bharti Kher, to a colossal pair of carved wings by Thukral and Tagra. In addition, a creation by the renowned French-American sculptor Arman titled “The Day After” depicts a cast bronze cabinet ravaged by fire. These large contemporary works including those by international artists Huma Bhabha, Stephen Cox, James Brown, Hans Josephsen, and Evan Holloway are placed in the palatial courtyard, capitalising on its ample natural light. Artwork complementing the lavishly decorated interiors is positioned within the maze-like interiors of the palace, Reema Saini Kallat’s cobweb made entirely of stamps, and a velvet root-like projection from a wall, by Anita Dube. Other artworks include those by Mrinalini Mukherjee, Benitha Perciyal, and Gyan Panchal, delicately installed inside the hand-painted quarters.
The future of Indian heritage
Aparajita Jain, Founder & Director of Saat Saath Arts Foundation, has endeavoured to showcase India’s prowess in contemporary art. “Our initiative aims to promote India’s growing interest in contemporary art and culture whilst also embracing its important heritage.” The primary motive of the exhibition is to allow visitors a chance to engage with contemporary art and to give artists space outside of conventional galleries.
As Pablo Picasso once said, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls”, the annual Sculpture Park aims to fulfil that very purpose.