Taking the flight of stairs up Dhoomimal Gallery in Connaught Place, Delhi, is traveling back in time to the history of Indian art. The walls resonate with history, crowded with photographs of artists SH Raza, FN Souza, J Swaminathan and leaders such as Indira Gandhi and APJ Abdul Kalam.
Born in 1936, one of India’s oldest art galleries, Dhoomimal is back in a fresh new avatar, albeit retaining its old-world charm. So while the British fireplace remains, the flooring, windows and the parabola - all with a Victorian look are the new additions. Uday Jain, the affable third generation owner of the gallery, wants to bring back the 'addas' of the yesteryear.
The gallery, earlier only on the mezzanine floor, now occupies two floors and a terrace. Jain who's grown up hearing stories of dignitaries visiting Dhoomimal says, "In 1976, then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had come to inaugurate FN Souza's solo show. My dad tried to introduce J Swaminathan to her but he looked in the opposite direction and didn't greet her. Those days artists had very strong personalities. The same evening she invited my dad and Swaminathan for tea."
It’s only befitting for the refurbished gallery to have its launch with the annual Ravi Jain Memorial Exhibition. In its 30th year, the exhibition is showcasing works of over 60 young artists from across India.
If Zara Shaikh's acrylic on canvas portrayal of slum life looks poignant, Natasha Sachdeva's 'Balancing my Hormones' and 'These Bulges are not Mine' will resonate with contemporary women. The central courtyard houses Manveer Singh’s thought-provoking sculpture ‘Futuristic Earth Core’ that shows a parched land.
Dhoomimal Gallery was born when artists in the country were struggling to survive on modest means. They used to visit Ram Chand Jain’s (Uday's grandfather) stationery and printing store at Chawri Bazaar in Old Delhi to buy art supplies. He used to exclusively import the paper artist Abdur Rahman Chughtai painted on.
Fondly remembered as Ram Babu, the proprietor of Dhoomimal, shifted his store to Connaught Place in 1936. More often than not, the artists were not able to pay for the supplies and in exchange they began leaving their artworks with him. It is the beginning of how the mezzanine floor above the store began to function as a gallery.
Acclaimed artist Manu Parekh first showed his works in 1975 at the Dhoomimal. One of his early memories of the gallery includes a young Uday Jain playing football in the gallery. "I told him he was going to grow up and handle my paintings," says Parekh.
His prophecy turned true in due course of time. Jain has his share of fond memories: "Once sitting next to FN Souza, I prompted him on what colours to fill in his painting. He gifted that painting to me," he adds.
Dhoomimal's legacy is built on promoting young talent. Says Jain, "Between my dad and Swaminathan (one of India’s most prominent artists) they promoted a lot of artists, including Manjit Bawa, Paramjit Singh, Madhvi Parekh, Arpita Singh et al. They formed one of the best dealer-artist combo."
Sculptor Latika Katt shares, “When we graduated from Art College in 1978, we thought galleries would pay a lot of attention to us but no one would even speak to us properly. But Ravi Jain (Uday’s father) gave us a warm welcome.”