Andretta Needs Patronage

Rajiv K. Phull                 (Cover Story)

Once agog with creative activities, the art village Andretta is losing its sheen. It needs patronage as it houses Sobha Singh Art Gallery and Museum, a gem hidden in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra Valley in the lap of spectacular Himalayan Mountains.  This village was a meeting point of some great minds in theatre, art and pottery in the last century. A young Irish woman Norah Richards came to Andretta in 1920s. She invited B.C. Sanyal, a well-known painter and sculptor and her late husband’s pupil to join her in Andretta. Later, the legendary actor Prithviraj Kapoor too began to visit this village. Artist Sobha Singh (1901-1986) settled at Andretta after the partition of the country in 1947. He designed his own house, studio and art gallery with a sign, “Grow More Good”, which sums up his philosophy on art and life. Sobha Singh Art Gallery is looked after by late artist’s daughter Gurbachan Kaur and her family members, Dr. Hirday Paul Singh and Kamaljit Kaur. There are many places where other legends lived and practiced different art forms. Knowldgeable persons feel that state government must take steps to preserve this rich cultural heritage for future generations.

Original Art Works At Display

During his four decades of creativity at Andretta, he painted a large number of paintings on various themes which included Sikh Gurus and Prophets, national heroes and freedom fighters, love legends and portraits. During his lifetime, many commoners and connoisseurs used to visit him and interact with him on art, life and philosophy. After his demise in 1986, the family members of the late artist renamed the gallery as Sobha Singh Art Gallery where around five dozen original art works of the artist are on display. These include  Guru Gobind Singh, Lord Rama, Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, Sohni Mehiwal, Her Grace the Gaddan, etc.

Soba Singh’s Studio

Himachal This Week also talked to Sobha Singh’s grandson Dr. Hirday Paul Singh, who along with his mother and wife runs the gallery, on  the condition of art village and hardships faced in maintaining the rich heritage. Following are the excerpts of the interview:

HTW: Who is managing the art gallery now?

Dr. Hirday Paul Singh:  Sobha Singh Art Gallery is managed by proprietor Gurcharan Kaur assisted by me, her daughter-in-law  Kamaljit Kaur, an expert in folk art traditions of Kangra, and her grandchildren.

HTW:  How has been the journey so far?

Dr. Hirday Paul Singh:  We have felt  encouraged with the response of visitors and followers of the late artist who throng art gallery from all over the country and foreign lands. Yet we feel greatly discouraged that Sobha Singh has been deliberately “disowned” by the powers of Himachal Pradesh. Sobha Singh settled in Andretta before Himachal Pradesh was created as a separate state. Despite apathy and callous attitude of concerned, we will continue to spread the Sobha Singh’s motto ‘Grow More Good’ and will do everything possible to spread his art and philosophy as long as possible

HTW: What new attractions have been added?

Dr. Hirday Paul Singh: After the demise of artist in 1986, we have expanded the gallery stepwise: all the area used by Sobha Singh Jee has been merged in Sobha Singh Art Gallery and access has been provided to visitors to his studio and other places. New canvass prints numbering two dozen have been added. A museum was added which displays his personal belongings and photographs depicting his life journey. This year we have displayed letters to artist by Maharaja Yadvindra Singh of Patiala (father of Capt Amrinder Singh), former President Neelam  Sanjiva Reddy, Prithvi Raj Kapoor etc. A website has been created besides a facebook group Sobha Singh Artist with over six thousand members from world over.

HTW: How do you manage resources to run the gallery?

Dr. Hirday Paul Singh:  We generate our own resources to maintain the gallery as we employ three to six persons as per needs of summer or winter seasons. We have also spent to construct Sobha  Singh Artist Residency building. Only last year , we introduced a nominal entry ticket to generate some resources to meet recurring expenses.

HTW: Is there any government support or patronage?

Dr. Hirday Paul Singh: There is no support from any quarter. Prem Kumar Dhumal as Chief Minister visited gallery in 2011 and had promised to extend all help. A proposal was also sent to him but it was sabotaged by one of the official of the concerned department.

HTW: What are your expectations from the government?

Dr. Hirday Paul Singh: The government should own its great artist who spent his entire life after partition in this village and brought it on international art map. The concerned departments need to introspect and plan some regular art activity here like organising art workshops, lectures, workshops etc. Road condition must improve as poor road to Andretta from Palampur notified as Sobha Singh Marg brings a bad name. Basic infrastructure for tourists should be created. Tourism Department should run an Ad campaign and promote it in on their website.

HTW: Other agencies helping the gallery, financially or otherwise?

Dr. Hirday Paul Singh: No agency is helping except one Sobha Singh Group in London which twice sent art experts to restore some of the old paintings of the artist. They provided useful tips to preserve paintings.

The government should own its great artist who spent his entire life after partition in this village and brought it on international art map

-Dr. Hirday Paul Singh, Sobha Singh’s Grandson

Converted Into Museum

Sobha Singh  (1901-1986)

In 2011, the family members vacated the residential area and converted it to Sobha Singh Museum that displays life journey of Sobha Singh in around 150 photographs. Some of his personal belongings like brushes, paints, books, beds, chairs, sticks, radio-cum-record player, clothes, etc. and other memorabilia is preserved here. Many people are not aware that he was a good sculptor also and some of his works in Plaster of Paris (PoP) are also on display. The sculptor of his friend and theatre personality Prithvi Raj Kapoor adorns the facade of his studio.

Denied Lucrative Offers

Despite the offers of huge sums to purchase any of the painting of the late artist, the family has decided not to part with any work and is very clear that this is a national heritage which they will continue to look after and preserve for the coming generations. Efforts have been made to invite international experts to suggest conservation and preservation of the invaluable works.

Art Village Losing Sheen

Norah Richards

Andretta has not been able to maintain the sheen as art village due to total  apathy and neglect allegedly by different departments meant for art, culture and tourism. The concerned departments have not spent a single rupee on the development and sustain art activities here, knowledgeable persons feel. For example Tourism Department has not even fixed an indication board for the art village Andretta. Public Works Department road is in poor shape. Even the international visitors have mentioned it on famous travel website Trip Advisor. Norah Richards estate is in the control of Punjabi University, Patiala. It has made a students holiday home here and has adequate staff to manage the estate but rarely organises theatre or art activities. Activities related to pottery have declined in the village that was also famous for Andretta pottery. Other artists who settled here during Norah’s time have died or grown very old. Even  their children seldom come here. Actor Kabir Bedi never came after the death of his mother Fareda Bedi.  He has a house here.

Sobha Singh Art Festival

Last year a mega weeklong Sobha Singh Art Festival was organised at Andretta. Sixty students of local schools were trained in art and craft work and some were also awarded.  This year 23rd annual Sobha Singh Art Festival is being held in Bathinda in Punjab from November 30. More than 130 artists along over 250 paintings are participating in the festival. In addition more than 400 students from 75 schools and colleges also particpated in the festival.

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