Chintan Upadhyay in Thane Central Jail is set to exhibit and auction his paintings
Encouraged by Chintan Upadhyay's prolific painting while in Thane Central Jail, state prison plans auction of 100 works; looks to revise jail manual to include fine art, making all state jails compete in an annual jumbo art carnival
Artist Chintan Upadhyay, innocent until proven guilty, and incarcerated in Thane Central Jail since December 2015, for allegedly conspiring the murder of his estranged wife Hema Upadhyay and her lawyer Harsh Bhambani, is set to exhibit and auction about 100 of his paintings during Diwali this year.
The money collected will be used for the prison welfare fund. A senior prison officer told mid-day that Upadhyay's paintings are in demand, and the auction will help garner necessary funds for the welfare of inmates. In December 2017, one of Upadhyay's paintings was picked up by film producer Kiran Rao for '4.5 lakh during an exhibition held at a BKC school.
Chintan Upadhyay, who has been in jail since 2015, wears innocence on his tee in this self portrait
"He has invested his own hard-earned money in making these paintings," the official said about the Delhi-based artist, who, in a promising career, had shown works across the world, and was a recipient of the Charles Wallace Foundation Award.
The case so far
Hema and Chintan Upadhyay were fighting a bitter divorce for five years from 2010-2015, and a related case over a property dispute. On December 11, 2015, Hema and Bhambani were found dead in a drain in Kandivli. Four people—Pradeep Rajbhar, Shivkumar Rajbhar, Vijay Rajbhar and Azad Rajbhar—were arrested, while their 'leader', Vidyadhar Rajbhar, a small-time fabricator who worked with several artists including both Hema and Chintan, is still absconding.
Upadhyay's painting titled Freedom, featuring a jailed zebra, hangs at the office in Byculla prison. Pic/Bipin Kokate
Pradeep Rajbhar had confessed that he had met Chintan in Chembur three evenings before the murders, to plot the murder. But he later retracted the statement, alleging that he was pressurised by the police. It was alleged that Upadhyay had commissioned the murders since he knew Vidyadhar, and Hema was lured to the site of the crime, a warehouse, with the promise of information that would prove embarassing to Upadhyay.
Since then, several bail pleas have been declined, most recently by the Supreme Court in February 2019. Over the last three years, Upadhyay has held a few exhibitions of the works he created in jail. One of his paintings, Freedom, of a jailed zebra with a bleeding hoof, currently hangs in a meeting room in the administrative office of Byculla jail. His upcoming Diwali exhibition includes several paintings that use allegorical references to talk about current affairs.
Crossing The Border shows a Rohingya couple with a baby crossing a river in one half, and in the other half, uses the same shades to create an abstract. In the artist's note, he says, "Violence is not only physical, but abstract, too, with the fear of unknown." Another work, Dangerous Play, shows a babirusa (pig deer) encircled by a pack of dogs, a reference to mob lynching. About this, Upadhyay says, "This painting is about the growing sense of fear and power."
Art for all
Meanwhile, the state prison has written a letter to the Maharashtra government, with the request of adding art and fine art to the jail manual, so that raw materials can be provided to the inmates without any NGO intervention.
"We have written to the government to include art and fine art as activities to be taken along with the existing ones, for the purpose of correction and rehabilitation," said Deepak Pandey, inspector-general (prisons), Maharashtra. "Once the government gives its nod, this will be taken up at all 60 jails across Maharashtra. The works will be evaluated by a committee, comprising the regional DIG and the concerned superintendent of the jail. Eventually, we hope to hold the exhibition annually in Mumbai and Pune."
Until now, the state prison department had to collaborate with non-profits who'd fund the raw materials for inmates, who wished to take up painting and sculpture. The inmates are paid for any work assigned to them in the prison. Pandey said that it is a lengthy procedure, from evaluation of an inmate's work to paying him/her. "If art and fine art are included in the jail manual, we will have a free hand in evaluating and exhibiting their work," he said.
Paintings made by the artist over the last few years, which will be a part of the upcoming Diwali exhibition and auction
Mumbai artist Bose Krishnamachari, a friend of Upadhyay's and someone who has worked with inmates at Delhi's Tihar jail, said, "Art practices at jails give the inmates a great opportunity [to enjoy] relatively relaxing moments. Aesthetic awareness and creative practice [will] make them better human beings. Ultimately, we are all striving for a better and peaceful world, and art heals."
A marketplace for all
Maharashtra is also set to start a jail corporation, which will help state prisons sell the products made by the inmates. The prison department is zeroing-in on locations to open brick-and-mortar shops. The officer added these showrooms will sell furniture, handicrafts and food items and will also be available on e-commerce sites.
According to jail officials, the prison industry in Maharashtra is the largest in the country and is situated across 10 districts: Thane, Nagpur, Yerawada, Nashik, Kolhapur, Solapur, Amravati, Dhule, Sangli and Satara. More than 2,100 convicts work nine hours a day. Female convicts specialise in paper jewellery, incense sticks, zari work and stitching.
Several convicts also contribute in industries such as Kolhapur's iron foundry and leading footwear companies. About 120-130 kg of bread is sent daily to Thane Mental Hospital for patients and staff, baked by Thane jail inmates. A jail official said, "In 2017, during a Diwali exhibition, we raked in '1 lakh a day by selling sarees, bedsheets, pillow covers, jewellery and baked products. The revenue of the prison industry in Maharashtra has been increasing each year. It was '27crore in 2017-18."
Rs 4.5 lakh
The sale price of a Chintan Upadhyay painting in 2015
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