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Nek Chand Saini

Nek Chand Saini is probably the best exponent of 'Outsider Art' in India. Born in a Punjab village in present day Pakistan, his family settled in Chandigarh, post the 1947 partition of India. Chandigarh was a city that was then being designed as India's first planned urban centre by the Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier.

In 1951, Nek Chand found work as a public road inspector, but spent his evenings fashioning sculptures out of curiously shaped rocks, recycled materials and found objects, many of which were scavenged from demolition sites across the city.

These he housed in a small clearing in the forest area near Chandigarh's Sukhna Lake, adding on interlinked clearings over the years to house his growing collection. In 1975, city inspectors stumbled across what had evolved into a 12-acre garden. After initial objections, they relented, and in 1976, opened it to the public. Nek Chand was also offered the position of 'Sub-divisional Engineer, Rock Garden' and a workforce of 50 artisans so he could concentrate on his creative work.

Spirituality is a powerful aspect of Nek Chand's work. It is encoded into the very concept of his 'Rock Garden': "You will notice that the gates or doors leading from one courtyard to the other are narrow. If you visit any temple you will notice that the doorway to the shrine is placed low - this is so the visitor is forced to bow his head as he enters the audience of the deity, as though paying obeisance. I felt it was only right to have the same in the garden because I imagined and designed it as a 'deva nagri', a city of the gods and goddesses.

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