Cholamandal Artists’ Village, Chennai
Cholamandal Artists’ Village, established in 1966, is the largest artists’ commune in India, whose artists are credited for the Madras Movement of Art (1950s–1980s), which brought modernism to art in the South India. Their work is widely recognized as some of the best art produced in postwar India, and is shown regularly in galleries across the country.
In fact several Cholamandal artists have also shown in Europe, the United States and South America. Situated at village Injambakkam, 9 km from Chennai, India, it has over twenty resident painters and sculptors, who live as a community and pool their skills; they also run the Artists Handicrafts Association, a cooperative which manages the village and sale of works through the permanent exhibition at the complex, which includes paintings, sketches, terra-cotta/stone/metal sculptures, batiks and handicrafts etc., made by the artists living the village, making the village a self-supporting entity.
The community was founded by K. C. S. Paniker, the principal of the Madras School of Arts, along with his students and a few artists associated with the college. It used the `art-meets-craft’ approach where artists made handicrafts for a living even as they pursued their art. By 1970s, the village became self-sufficient, and grew into one of the most important meeting places for international artists in India, and today, it remains one of the few artist-driven movements of India. Four decades on, it is one of the few artists’ colonies in the world to survive successfully and its foundation remains one of the “10 biggest art moments” in India.
The village houses a number of art galleries, museums, and an open-air theatre on the site also houses dance and theatre performances. The original Artists Handicrafts Association is still in charge of the colony, and Paniker’s son, sculptor S. Nandagopal, is the Secretary of the Village. Out of the original forty artists, many are no more, and some have moved out, only twenty one remain today, and Cholamandal does not accept new members, though it has at least a dozen artists living or working there at any time in the year, plus many artists-in-residence are also at work here.
The village which only had huts, has turned into an artist’s haven. The permanent gallery has a fabulous display of paintings, graphics, drawings and sculptures. Its open-air theatre, created from a sunken pond, now hosts over 300 spectators during music, theatre or dance performances. Musicians who have performed here include Dr. M. Balmuralikrishna, M.D. Ramanathan and N. Ramani. Famous dancers include Alarmel Valli and Leela Samson, and Maurice Bezzart of the Belgian National Theatre presented a ballet based on the Siva-Parvati theme. Theatre artists Badal Sircar and Koothu-P-Pattari also performed here.
There is a workshop for batik and metal work and several guesthouses are rented out to art aficionados. Artists who stay here for a year get to showcase their work at the gallery alongside its permanent members.
Nandagopal explains, “All artists have insecurities. I take more than a year to complete my sculpture and feedback is often very useful in enabling me to make changes at an initial stage.”
The village is open daily from 10 am to 5pm. Situated on East Coast Road (ECR), it is 10 minute walking distance from the Golden Beach. Local transport is now easily available and the Chennai International Airport the nearest airport, is 15 km away.
This 4-hectare artists’ cooperative is a serene muse away from the world and a quiet chance to both see and purchase contemporary Indian art direct from the source. There are two simple studio-cum-guest-houses available for visiting artists only (Rs500 per day; book well in advance).
Cholamandal Artists’ Village
Injambakkam Thiruvanmiyur, Chennai, Tamil nadu 600041