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In India, a man who saw sculptural possibilities in castaways has left behind hundreds of pieces of art in a public rock garden.

Nek Chand, an Indian artist who rose to prominence by quietly building a sprawling kingdom of folk sculptures in northern India that became one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, died on [June 12] in Chandigarh. He was 90. …

“Mr. Chand’s life’s work, known as the Rock Garden of Chandigarh, covers several acres and is populated by rock sculptures and figures of dancing women and animals, many of them fashioned from found objects like the mudguards of motorcycles and broken bangles.

“It stands in contrast to the striking if neglected government buildings conceived by Le Corbusier, who planned Chandigarh — the capital of the states of Punjab and Haryana — in the 1950s.

“For some, the Rock Garden, which has thousands of visitors a day, is an antidote to what, with its stark Modernist buildings, is seen as something of a bureaucrat’s city. …

“Mr. Chand was born Nek Chand Saini on Dec. 15, 1924, in the village of Barian Kalan, which became part of Pakistan after partition. He was newly arrived in the city of Chandigarh just after India’s independence in 1947. He worked for the government as a road inspector, according to the Department of Chandigarh Tourism website. But, [Rupan Deol Bajaj, a retired government functionary] said, he became fascinated by found objects, including weather-beaten rocks.

“ ‘I started building this garden as a hobby’ in the 1950s, he said in an interview with Agence France-Presse in December. ‘I had many ideas, I was thinking all the time. I saw beauty and art in what people said was junk.’

“By night he slipped onto a patch of land and artfully arranged rocks and construction waste behind a barricade of empty tar drums.”

The garden was a secret for a long time. When the authorities learned about it, a debate on its future ensued. But, says the Times reporter, “a groundswell of support led to its official opening to the public in 1976.” More here.

Photo: Reuters
Nek Chand, at 76, next to one of his sculptures. He died in June at age 90.

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