“As an artist, I achieved dual satisfaction by spreading the wings of inspiration and optimism among the prisoners – and to an extent put art – colours and creativity – on the map of an untrodden territory,” introduces Noida-based artist ‘nishu’ Natasha Chadha Bhambri. Under her Art Connect and the India Vision Foundation initiative, she has put her stamp of transformation in seven prisons across Delhi, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh.
In 2014, ‘nishu’ met her “childhood role model, Ramon Magsaysay Award recipient Dr. Kiran Bedi. The first female Indian Police Service officer, now retired, social activist, and current Lieutenant Governor of Puducherry, helms two NGOs. India Vision Foundation (IVF), since its inception in 1994, works with inmates and their families to ‘Save the Next Victim’ via Prison Reforms. The second, Navjyoti India Foundation (1988), services underserved communities.
“My niece, Tarunima Bajpai, was then interning at Navjoti, and introduced me to Dr. Bedi. Seeing my art Dr. Bedi proposed I conduct an art workshop at the Bhondsi District Prison, Gurugram. I was then an established, progressive, contemporary visual artist, doing my bit for society. With her offer, I foresaw a higher purpose awaiting me. I was swept along by her contagious enthusiasm and passion. There was no turning back from there”, she recalls.
The same year, Bhondsi became Art Connect’s pilot project in Artistic Prison Reform. The initial four years involved narrowing over 40 potential artists from among the inmates down to a core group of eight for their aptitude and artistic skills. While concentrating on art and sculpture, Superintendent of Police Harinder Singh, District Prison Gurugram, suggested and supported revamping the entire 5000 sq. ft. four-sided exterior façade. Within four months the concept and designs were ready on paper. The unanimous thematic choice was National Integration incorporating Indian icons.
“Art Connect’s team – Aman, Ravi, Manish, Babulal, Anand, Hari Singh, Subhash, and Parveen – had already demonstrated their specialisation with respective mediums, including Maati Bandhu with the local sandy ‘mitti’ and Malba Bandhu comprising of discarded rubble, stones, telephone wire, etc. These installations have given ‘faces’ to trees and formed murals and textured walls. The entire interior of Bhondsi had permanently been reinforced as an evolving art and sculpture gallery. I was confident our next challenge of transforming the prison’s exterior would be a success too,” reconfirms the 45-year old artist.
For this project, ‘nishu’ spent four-five hours daily commuting from Noida to Gurgaon and back home. “Preparations started by designing, graph up, setting the base proportions and supervising my enthused team. They worked relentlessly during the 47 degrees summer temperatures, at times perched 15ft high on ladders. Their commitment overwhelmed and inspired me to keep innovating new techniques. I kept raising the bar and they kept stretching upwards to reach it! This became a sort of spiritual journey for me, aided by Monica Dhawan, Director, IVF. The art on the façade soon attracted eyeballs. People stopped and watched the prisoners painting, and in turn, gave the artists appreciation and some recognition,” she avers.
This initial collaborative attempt became life-changing for ‘nishu’. “Some moments are going to last with me forever…. One day, upon reaching the prison, my team asked me to go to the storeroom with them. Standing there was a work-in-progress, almost a six feet tall dinosaur. “Ma’am, you love to experiment. We thought we’d surprise you with our creation. But we got stuck with the proportions so need your guidance.” Their initiative touched me, as did their continued faith in me. Coincidentally, the sugarcane juice I had got, led to sharing a refreshing moment on another searing hot day!”
As the next project came up, various corporate CSR stepped in to conduct training programs and sponsoring the artistic transformations. The Art Connect-IVF-Sony Pictures Network combination resulted in creating dedicated spaces resonating with music in Kasna in Greater Noida and Dasna District Prisons in Ghaziabad, UP, and in Haryana’s District Prison in Ambala and Sunariya in Rohtak. In all, thematic Dhun music rooms were designed with Maati musical instruments and notes on walls and pillars.
Beyond Art Connect, ‘nishu’ runs her own Nishwet Creative House with her soul sister Shweta Bajpai. They participate in numerous art shows pan-India and take on private commissions – residential, commercial, corporate, CSR projects – or give artistic support to social awareness Government campaigns like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan association with Noida Authority and HCL. ‘nishu’ was recently invited to put up a larger-than-life art Installation at KGAF2020 (Kala Ghoda Arts Festival) in Mumbai, in appreciation of her artistic spirit.
‘nishu’s affair with art started as a child in Bikaner, copying cartoons and comics from newspapers. Sighting talent in his daughter, her Engineer father, Shri T K Chadha got her art supplies, and her mother Kiran Chadha, and brother Aashish Chadha became her best critics and driving force. A self-driven, self-taught art enthusiast, she learned 24 styles of paintings and has been exhibiting since college.
As she signs off, ‘nishu’ goes back to her passion – the artists behind bars. “These boys continue working on various projects and earn money by selling their art, including at the annual Surajkund Fair. An initial commission for them was a 12ft. x12ft. Maati sculpture of the Haryana logo for the State’s 50th Swarna Utsav year in 2016. The boys have also taken on training programs to mentor their fellow inmates in art and sculpture. As their terms finish, each artist is certified by IVF and Art Connect to enable their reintegration back into society, giving them the opportunities and trust they deserve. Many of those joining mainstream society are still in touch with me. I am blessed I still can help strengthen this reform program which will continue to give many present and future inmates a sense of hope and positivity – and bring moments of colourful joy into their lives.”
“I aspire to continue making changes where society needs it. Alongside my commercial art, I seek opportunities for my creative rainbow to help colour others’ world – and simultaneously, mine. My colours and me – that is the entirety of the moment. Art is my Paradise,” concludes ‘nishu’ whose encouragement comes from her husband Vikas Bhambri and sons Jai and Lakshya.
QUOTES BY INMATES
- “When I joined Art Connect, I could paint a little but now I am confident I can take up bigger jobs. It keeps my mind busy, and can further help me creatively whenever I’ll be released,” Ravi, 25, (convict.)
- “When Nishu ma’am told us we were going to paint, I didn’t believe we could do it. But now I feel so proud. It was a learning experience for all of us.” – Manish, 28 (convict).
- “I used to paint before coming here. Art Connect has taught me so much that I couldn’t have possibly learned outside. I’m eager to restart life with this newly gained knowledge.” – Aman, 35 (Released and working as an apprentice at Nishwet Creative House, fulfilling one of ‘nishu’s dreams of “from prison to reintegration into mainstream society”)
Contact point for buying ‘Art behind Bars’:
* ‘nishu’ Natasha Chopra Bhambri Email: [email protected]
* Monica Dhawan, Director, India Vision Foundation.
Email: [email protected]
Picture Credit : Art Connect, Noida
56 thoughts on “Art Behind Bars”
Amita ji, you bring such beautiful stories to us. This one is again very inspiring. It shows how we can create humans out of those who might have committed chilling crimes.
It gives a ray of hope to us all who are trying to bring some positive change around us.
Thanks. The idea is to inspire them to lead normal lives once back in society.
Interesting story. Well presented to show up a different side of society.
Thanks. The intent is also to give them an option to get back into main stream society.
Very inspiring… its applaudable.
Very interesting and informative . Shows there is no limit to human ingenuity and in how many ways one can make a contribution for betterment of life and world around us .
Thanks Amita for spreading such efforts around .
Appreciate your comments. Want more people to know about Nishu’s work.
The artist in Nishu was waiting to be expanded. Dr Kiran Bedi saw her art , recognized her a persona ; gave a boost to complete herself. And, Dr Kiran Bedi fulfilled her own agenda : the passion to build up the esteem of “Her” prisoners.Thank you Amita for bringing all this into our world in such a inspiring manner.
Nishu feels society should know that these people do need / have some options to get back to a normal life.
Beautiful article. Just shows a little effort love, and compassion can go a long way to change human beings.
Great work by Nishu!
Thanks for bringing us out of our little worlds to issues like these.
Appreciate your feedback
What a beautiful and useful purpose Nishi has used her talents to burn her mental energy on people who have had unfortunate experiences in life.I wish they are able yo enjoy a better future hereafter.Thanks Amita for forwarding to me.
Nishu’s started by taking Aman (from her original team of eight inmates) as an apprentice in her studio.
Amita thanks fir sharing
Thank you Amita for sharing such inspirational lives of good samaritans like Nishu. Wish this could be aired by Mr Sardesai on India Today channel in his ‘Feel Good’ story- A ray of hope in these not so good times.
Thank you. If you have a link to Rajdeep Sardesai, please forward to him. And to others who might be interested in this story.
Very interesting and well written article.A beautiful way to integerate the convicts back in the society.
Yes, that’s Nishu’s mission starting with one of the boys who has finished his term & is interning in Nishu’s studio.
A new skill and hope will transform lives. Congratulations on the initiative.
Yes, that has been Natasha’s intent. Motivation came from Dr Kiran Bedi
What a wonderful idea to channel hidden talents behind bars! Accolades to Kiran Bedi for the bright idea,and Nishu for carrying it to fruition! So glad you wrote about it Amita,now one can make efforts to buy their work and encourage the inmates. Wishing everyone great success.
That would be wonderfully encouraging if people can reach out & buy their work. Do spread the word.
Amazing!! I’m blown away by this act of humanity and creativity!!
Path breaking work , Indeed a transformation not only of the walls of the prison but of the mindset regarding prisons . Kudos
🙏🏽 Please do spread the word so more people know about it.
Amita very well written article, ‘Art Behind Bars’.Commendable initiative by IVF to transform the lives of inmates.Nishu as an artist played pivotal role in exploring the talent among the inmates n making this project fruitful.Well said , ‘The journey continues .‘My good wishes to all.
Thank you for your kind words. Please do spread this message.
अद्भुत, अनूठा, अप्रतिम सराहनीय कार्य!
सलाखों के पीछे का सृजनात्मक, भावनाओं
का समुद्र, तूलिका और रगों की ज़बान में कागज़ पर लहरा रहा है! बधाई, शुभकामनाएं!
Nishu is actually transforming lives by bringing prisoners back into the mainstream society. She is taking her passion for art to support the society….what a noble deed. Inspiring Lives…
Article is very well written and beautifully covers the journey of artist…’NISHU’
Thank you. Please spread this message to further motivate the inmates.
” बंधन में उलझे हृदयों में
संचारित करती नव आशा
विविध कलाओं और लेखन से
गढ़ती सृजन की नव परिभाषा
सौम्य शांत हर्षित और स्नेहिल
अद्भुत है व्यक्तित्व ” नताशा ” !! “
Very beautifully said 🙏🏽
I do appreciate for this motivational and inspiring creativity and this work. It’s going to be a very fruitful and healthy atmosphere in the society and forthcoming generation.
Thank you. Please do spread this message about Nishu’s work to others too
Beautifully written and an intervention which is very apt with the time, specially for those who are struggling. I personally use art as medium of expression and have seen the healing power of art , through my work. I have captured some aspects in the below blog :
https://heart2artbyvriti.wixsite.com/website/post/the-natural-healing-function-of-creativity – hope its insightful and creates more spaces like ‘Nishu’s’ intervention
Vriti very impressed by your work too. Have visited your blog. Would like to connect with you too.
Nice gesture Natasha you are doing great job. You have channelized negativity of prisoners towards positive direction . Through creative activities one can always change the approach of life in developing constructive thought process. All the best wishes for your creative journey.
Please do spread Nishu’s initiative.
What a fantastic way to inspire the prisoners!! The initiative is truly commendable. Hats off to each and everyone involved in this project. My best wishes to you Nishu for future endeavors.👍🏻👍🏻
Please help further by telling other like- minded people about Nishu’s work
Beautiful. So proud of you nishu . You are one of the best artist and a even better human being. Knowing you for almost all my life as a friend I feel blessed.
It is heartening to see your art being recognised and put to such a good use. Doing what you love and inspiring others as well. You and your team changed the outlook of the prison completely . God bless
Obviously Nishu is very close to you. Please help by forwarding her article to other like-minded friends so her work can spread out further.
Beautiful…I am falling short of good words in my dictionary to comment on the good work of the artist ” Nishu” …Hats off to the thought that has gone to paint the walls and change the ambience of the place which does not look like a jail any more…God bless her ..
Thank you for your encouraging words to Nishu and her students.
Wonderful initiative. Keep it up.
Wow… This is so inspiring!! Splendid work..
Truly an unsung hero!!
Gives the prisoners a purpose to integrate back into the mainstream to lead fulfilling lives . So many wonderful people in the world. God Bless their efforts under inspirational guidance from Nishu!
Thanks Amita for your untiring efforts to bring us these stories.
Amita Sarwal. . . . beautiful write up on Nishu. Very inspiring n wonderful work by nishu for changing the surroundings of prison n life of inmates. She has cultivated them to be useful n better persons for society. Hat’s off to each n every one involved in this project. My Best wishes to NISHU for future.
Art Connect is such an amazing endeavour. The artist Natasha’s touches and inspires the inmates to channelize their energies creatively! Admirable…
Amita thank you for this lovely piece and introducing us to this sensitive, gifted artist.
Natasha always desired to contribute towards society through her art. She is not only an established artist and a well known name in our country’s art fraternity but also a lady with a beautiful heart full of compassion and a strong will to bring a change.
Kudos to Kiran Bedi and Nishu for such a wonderful idea.Thanks to you Amita ji for bringing ART BEHIND BARS to us.