A magical landscape built of trash

A magical landscape built of trash

Nek Chand's mythological figures were created in secret over 20 years. Photos: Geetu vashishta

Dhruv Singh talks to a man who secretly constructed a fantasy world from rubbish

Imagine urban waste being transformed into marvellous sculptures. That is what happens in the Indian city of Chandigarh's Rock Garden.

The sculptures here are made from discarded fluorescent lights, rusting oil drums, broken tiles, shattered china and sanitary ware. Colourful glass bangles, unused building materials, broken street lights, burnt bricks, electric fittings, soda-bottle caps and bicycle handle bars also all go into the making of fantasy figures - even human hair collected from barber shops.

Most of the materials for the now world-famous garden came from village houses that were demolished when Chandigarh became India's first planned modern city, according to the vision of French architect Le Corbusier.

The garden is also known as Nek Chand's Rock Garden, after its now 84-year-old creator.

Geetu Vashishta

84-year-old Nek Chand

'I make things from what people think is junk and throw away,' says Chand. These figures and sculptures are my childhood fantasies."

The project started secretly in the 1950s, when Chand was working as a road inspector. He began collecting trash and taking it into a nearby forest. He worked secretly every night, sculpting a world of birds, monkeys, tigers, soldiers and mythological creatures. Even mosquitoes and snakes could not stop him.

The city authorities did not discover Chand's hideout until 20 years later. The initial reaction was to demand its destruction as illegal constructions. But news of Chand's work spread and, as growing numbers of people went to see it, the authorities relented and allowed him to open his garden to the public.

Today, the garden sprawls over 40 acres of land and consists of waterfalls, swings and thousands of interesting sculptures. About 5,000 people visit a day. Chand has been given the Padma Shri, one of India's leading awards for contributions to the arts, among other things, and the government has even issued a Rock Garden postage stamp.

When the Berlin Wall fell, he was invited to create sculptures from the debris, and in London, the Nek Chand Foundation was established to promote and preserve the Rock Garden. His statues have found their way into museums worldwide, including at the Capital Children's Museum in Washington, DC and the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.

Geetu Vashishta

Sculptures from the Rock Garden

He built a Children's Fantasy Garden in Washington, where he was awarded the Superior Craftsmanship Award in 1986.

'I never planned to build this garden and become famous. It just happened as if some godly power was making me do [it],' Chand says.

The self-taught sculptor never went to art school and says he has no theories about art. 'Art for me is play. I never force myself to create artistic things.'

Wendy Wong Mei-ying , a Hongkonger who visited Rock Garden in 2007, says: 'I was amazed to see such fantastic figures. I never imagined urban waste could be used like that. I learned to recycle things.'

Agnes Wai, principal of St Stephen's College Preparatory School at Stanley and a frequent traveller, calls it 'an unforgettable place'.

She said: 'We should have something like this in Hong Kong if we can find some space.'

Dhruv Singn

Dhruv, a Young Post cub reporter, is a Form 1A student from YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College


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