Delhi Silpi Chakra
An artists’ collective founded in the years following Indian independence, the Delhi Silpi Chakra provided one of the first platforms for modern art in New Delhi, giving artists of the time a space to exhibit and sell their works.
The collective’s founding members included Bhabesh Chandra Sanyal, Pran Nath Mago, Dhanraj Bhagat, KS Kulkarni and Kanwal Krishna. Following the Partition in 1947, several artists had moved to Delhi from Lahore and the Delhi Silpi Chakra, centred around its founders, was created to provide a support system through which they could continue practising art amidst personal upheavals. Another factor in its establishment was the lack of patronage from existing arts institutions in the city, such as the All-India Fine Arts and Crafts Society (AIFACS). Mago, Krishna and Kulkarni had been members of the AIFACS, but resigned in favour of establishing the Delhi Silpi Chakra.
The Delhi Silpi Chakra was founded on 25 March, 1949. The member-artists initially met at Jantar Mantar and later at Sanyal’s studio at Gole Market. It held its first exhibition, in November that year, at the barracks of the Masonic Lodge on Janpath. In 1957, the collective acquired its own premises at Shankar Market, where it held exhibitions and discussions, and ran a sketching club as well as a printing facility. The members frequently collaborated with writers, musicians, poets and critics. The collective also invited non-members to display works at its exhibitions as guest artists. Sailoz Mukherjea and KG Subramanyan participated in the group’s annual exhibitions. Other artists who were part of the collective over the years included Avinash Chandra, Dinkar Kowshik, Harkrishan Lall, Jaya Appasamy and Satish Gujral, among others. The art critic Richard Bartholomew was also among its members.
Delhi Silpi Chakra aimed to provide its members with forms of support that would translate to commercial sales. By organising exhibitions in prominent areas of Delhi such as Chandni Chowk and Karol Bagh, as well as at educational institutions, it sought to bring the arts to a more diverse clientele that included doctors, lawyers, students and teachers. It also introduced a system of hire-purchase and payment in instalments to make the artworks more affordable for buyers. In 1949, the collective inaugurated its own exhibition space, known as the Silpi Chakra Gallery, with the assistance of Ram Chander Jain, who owned Dhoomimal Dharamdas, an art supplies shop in Connaught Place. The gallery was opened on a floor of the store itself, later expanding to become the Dhoomimal Art Gallery.
The activities of the Delhi Silpi Chakra suffered a gradual decline in the mid-1960s. By the end of the decade, the collective had dissolved. In 2021, the Dhoomimal Art Gallery held a retrospective on the group, titled Outliers, Rebels, Disruptors: Delhi Silpi Chakra 70 Years On. The exhibition featured works from artists including Amarnath Sehgal, Arpita Singh, Sanyal, Damyanti Chawla, Devayani Krishna, J Swaminathan, Appasamy, Subramanyan, Kulkarni, Nand Katyal, Paramjit Singh, Ram Kumar, Rameshwar Broota, Mukherjea and Gujral.
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