The next time you head to Wenger’s in A-Block, Connaught Place (CP), for a pineapple pastry, take a minute to look at a piece of public art—created by M.F. Husain, no less—that graces the façade of the Dhoomimal Art Gallery and the adjacent Punjab National Bank office. Not exactly in mint condition, and sandwiched between shop signs and advertising boards, the mural—a mosaic of broken ceramic tiles—features the master’s perennial favourites: a horse, a nude female and what looks like a figure of Hanuman.
Click here to watch video about Husain’s mural
Recently, artist, photographer and bona fide Dilliwala Ram Rahman noticed the pillars of the colonnade in A-Block stripped of plaster—part of the drive to restore CP to its original glory ahead of the 2010 Commonwealth Games—and feared the worst for the Dhoomimal mural. He needn’t worry. The restoration drive does not extend to shopfronts and façades. “They will be left untouched,” assures Mohit Jain, the gallery’s proprietor.
Dhoomimal was set up about 80 years ago and is the country’s oldest private art gallery. The late Mahender Jain, father of Mohit, commissioned the mural in the early 1960s.
There are other, more prominent, murals in Delhi that have been made by Husain—there is one on the walls of Indraprastha Bhawan in the ITO complex (which was designed by Rahman’s late father, architect Habib Rahman). These were a direct result of Nehru’s vsion—he wanted contemporary art to be accessible to everyone. “All government buildings had funding for public art (in those days),” recalls Rahman.
Jain says the Husain mural is a “landmark” treasured by the gallery, though he accepts that few actually know about it. Perhaps the CP restoration will prompt Jain to undertake a mini-restoration of his own and give this charming example of public art a facelift.