Jul 03 2015

Indian artist Nek Chand leaves behind his legacy Rock Garden

by Denise Tsui

Indian sculptor and creator of Chandigarh’s Rock Garden, Nek Chand, passed away at age 90. Image sourced from the Nek Chand Foundation webpage. Courtesy Nek Chand Foundation.

On June 12, Indian sculptor Nek Chand passed away at the age of 90 after suffering a cardiac arrest. The distinguished self-taught artist had already been unwell for some time having been recently diagnosed with cancer. Chand leaves behind his legacy in Chandigarh, the Rock Garden: a 25-acre park which is home to over 2,000 sculptures and works of art fashioned out of recycled waste materials collected from around the city by the artist. It is one of the largest tourist attractions in India, second only to the Taj Mahal.

Chand grew up in a small village outside of what is now Lahore and resettled in Punjab with his parents following the 1947 Partition of India. In 1958, Swiss-born French architect Le Corbusier arrived in Chandigarh tasked with the project of building a new and modern city. It was during this time, when Chand worked as a road inspector for the Punjab public works department, that he began to build his Rock Garden in secret, using materials gathered from the wastes of construction sites around the city. What began as a hobby eventually became his full-time endeavor. As a result of huge public interest in his project, Chand received state funding to complete his park and sculptures. Rock Garden was officially opened in 1976. A wonderland of sorts, his sculptural creations are mostly of musicians, birds, animals and dancers interspersed between several artificial waterfalls and garden courtyards. State funding for the care of the garden was removed in 1996, leading to vandalism and destruction of the Rock Garden by skeptical locals. The news of the vandalism caused outrage among the growing number of international supporters. In 1997, the Nek Chand Foundation was founded to help maintain and protect the Rock Garden.

Rock Garden is Chand’s gift to India. The artist also has large following abroad and has exhibited widely, including, in more recent years, an exhibition in Lausanne at the Collection de l’Art Brut in 2005, at the Halle Saint Pierre in Paris in 2006 and in 2013, at the Hayward Gallery in London. A retrospective of nearly 50 works by Chand are currently on display until the end of October at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex.