August 19, 2009 / 7:47 AM / 10 years ago

Art, incarcerated: India prison taps inmates' talent

NEW DELHI (Reuters Life!) - The subject matter tends to be dark, but the paintings created by inmates of South Asia’s largest prison are red-hot, selling out on the first day of an exhibition that is part of a successful rehabilitation project.

Once notorious for corruption, drug problems and prisoner abuse, Tihar jail complex in Delhi offers a wide range of reform programs for its 12,000 inmates, including, vocational training, education, meditation and painting.

The art classes were introduced two years ago as a form of therapy for inmates and are run by a full-time teacher as well as several professional artists who volunteer their time and talent.

The “Expressions at Tihar” exhibition, which runs until September 2 in Delhi, is the biggest public display of the prisoners’ works and comprises some 30 paintings by the residents of prison number 5, who are aged between 18 and 21.

“All the paintings by jail inmates put on display were sold on the first night,” said curator Anubhav Nath, who initiated the art lessons in 2007.

“We had about a thousand visitors at the opening, and everyone was like, wow, prisoners are doing this! At the end of the day they are human beings...they are creative people.”

The paintings, which feature many figures behind bars, are reasonably priced at between 2,000 and 10,000 rupees (around $40-$200), which Nath said was aimed at getting them on as many walls as possible.

The exhibition is also aimed at helping boost inmates’ confidence as well as help them find a job after their release.

Pawan Kumar, who has served six years of a seven-year sentence and who has four paintings in the exhibit, is determined to pursue a career in art once he is out.

“I used to be a factory worker, but I will surely try to become an artist if I get the opportunity,” said Kumar.

Nath, who runs the prestigious Ramchander Nath Foundation dedicated to developing the arts, said the non-profit organization would try and help talented inmates with jobs once they are released, but he makes no promises.

“I have one released inmate working as a part-time studio assistant with an artist now,” Nath added. ($1=48.70 Indian Rupee)

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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