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Nek Chand

One Majestic Dream

by Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder

Born in 1924, Nek Chand has seen a lot of changes... changes most of us never experience, like the loss of his home and his village when India was partitioned by the British in 1948.

At age 27, Nek Chand moved to a new area where twenty or so other small villages were being demolished to make room for a modern new city called Chandigarh. Located in northern India, Chandigarh is a 20th century city designed by Swiss architect Le Corbusier.

Once in Chandigarh, Nek obtained a job with the Public Works Department as a road inspector. The demolition of the villages had created a massive amount of waste that was of no interest to anyone... except Nek Chand. From early childhood, he had a vision of a kingdom populated by kings and queens, princes and princesses. A kingdom with townspeople and animals in a paradise setting.

The place Nek chose to bring his vision to life, was the publicly owned forest reserve that had been designated as a conservation area at Chandigarh. Nek believed this spot to be the one seen in his dream.

So in 1958 he built a simple structure, deep within the forbidden green belt. He started bringing broken pottery and recycled treasures to stash for future use. After collecting all manner of used goods, he began constructing dream.

Using concrete and stones and broken pieces of china, Nek created figures. Lots of them...

At every opportunity, year in and year, out Nek Chand cleared areas and built more structures. His majestic kingdom grew. Massive walls made from glass chards, dishes and broken pottery were added to his people. A field of animals grew out of waste. No one except his wife and a few very close friends knew about the creation. Then, while clearing undergrowth a government work crew came upon the work. By this time over two thousand works of art adorned the forest.

Shocked at what they had found, word spread that a miniature world of statues had been built in a forbidden area. It didn't take long for people of Chandigarh to find their way to the area to see this miracle.

After four years of debate and arguments between city officials regarding the fate of the forbidden sculptures, the overwhelming support from the citizens won the day, and the city fathers decided to allow this site to be open to the public.

After sixteen years of quiet collecting and creating Nek Chand no longer has to work in secret. His kingdom was officially sanctioned and given the name "Rock Garden". The city even put him on a salary and gave him some laborers to help with the building.

Today, Rock Garden has over 5000 sculptures.

Some are adorned with real hair collected from barber shops. Others are clothed in pieces of broken ceramics, bangles and glass. Old bicycle parts serve as bases for the figures that have molded cement arms and legs and bicycle seats for heads.

This remarkable man has created what is believed to be the worlds largest folk art attraction, and if Nek has his way, he will never stop adding to it.

Text © Jantje Blokhuis-Mulder; Photos Reprinted with Permission

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