Indian, 20th-21st centuries. Born, 1924, Barian Kalan, India (now Pakistan); died 2015, Chandigarh, India.
Nek Chand’s Rock Garden in Chandigarh, India demonstrates the imaginative vision and fervency of creation that animates the greatest of outsider artists. It is a twenty-five acre artwork containing over two thousand sculptures and naturally formed rocks dramatically placed throughout a multi-chambered environment filled with lush vegetation, flowing streams, and dramatic waterfalls cascading down rock embankments, all linked by an intricate web of winding walkways.
The representational sculptures include animals, imaginary beings, and humans—boys, soldiers, queens, and partygoers—often placed in groups suggestive of narrative situations, as when the queens emerge from their bath observed on high by the king. These works are frequently built from gray or flesh-tinted cement on metal armatures and are variously covered with recycled domestic and industrial materials: porcelain shards, colorful broken wrist bangles, or ground industrial slag. Created in many styles, the figures may display minimally inflected expressions etched in flat cement faces; others are embellished by broken shells used as eyes; while still others are adorned with shocks of real human hair.
Nek Chand had the idea of creating a magical place that recalled a childhood tale of a mythological “immortal king” of a kingdom where “all the denizens . . . whether they are human beings, birds or animals, have been endowed with immortality as a fruit of good deeds they had done in their mortal life.” Starting in the early 1960s, he took up what became his life’s artistic mission in a secret act of appropriating public land in defiance of the government for which he worked as a road inspector. Personally compelled to create a physical expression of his ideal dream world, he worked each night placing anthropomorphic found rocks and the concrete figurative sculptures he had made throughout his miniature kingdom. The secret site was discovered in 1972, but in response to the ensuing public amazement and support for what was recognized as a magical space, the government chose not destroy it, but rather to preserve it and ultimately provided Nek Chand a budget and helpers to continue building and even expand it. In 1976 the garden was officially opened as a nationalized site. It is now the second most popular tourist destination in all of India, surpassed only by the Taj Mahal.
2006, Rock Garden, The Kingdom of Nek Chand, La Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne, Switzerland
2006, Concrete Kingdom: Sculptures by Nek Chand, American Folk Art Museum, New York, NY
2000, Nek Chand: Healing Properties, John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan, WI
1997, Nek Chand Shows the Way: Sculptures from the Rock Garden of Chandigarh, Waterman’s Art Center, Brentford, UK
1996, Nek Chand, Asia Society, New York, NY
Capitol Children's Museum, Washington D.C.
Collection de l’Art Brut, Lausanne
Museum of American Folk Art, New York
John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan
Museum of International Folk Art, Santa Fe
Bandyopadhyay, Soumyen and Iain Jackson, The Collection, the Ruin and the Theatre: Architecture, sculpture and landscape in Nek Chand's Rock Garden, Chandigarh (Liverpool University Press, 2007).
Bhatti, S. S., “The Rock Garden of Chandigarh, Raw Vision 1 (Spring, 1989; rpt. Edition RV/ 1, 2, 3): 28-37
Maizels, John, “Nek Chand: Creator of a Magical World,” in Vernacular Visionaries: International Outsider Art, ed. Annie Carlano (Santa Fe, NM: The Museum of International Folk Art and Yale UP, 2003): 66-77.
Peiry, Lucienne, ed., Nek Chand’s Outsider Art: The Rock Garden of Chandigarh (Paris: Flammarion, 2005).
Umberger, Leslie, “Nek Chand: A Tale of Two Cities,” in Sublime Spaces and Visionary Worlds: Built Environments of Vernacular Artists (Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press and John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 2007): 318-343.