Tihar Jail

Tihar Jail, Delhi


Tihar Jail is the largest prison complex in South Asia and houses some of the most notorious and infamous criminals from the country. But despite being a correctional centre to over 14,000 inmates, it also has a very active facility for outreach, rehabilitation and educational activities.

The aim of doing a project with Tihar Jail was to project the voices of its inmates outwards and allow them some freedom of expression, while working on restoring a sense of humanity to the region.

Painting workshop with Indian artist Blaise

The Tihar Jail project was two-fold. One part of the project offered art as a means of expression to the inmates. This was done with artist Blaise who conducted workshops with the inmates, the result of which were murals painted with the inmates within the prison compound. The second part involved working on the exterior wall of the complex to make it more approachable.

Indian artist Blaise works on art-education practices with communities on the fringes of society - tribal communities, orphanages and prison facilities. Having previously worked in prisons in Jaipur and Tamil Nadu, he conducted a series of workshops with the inmates of Tihar Jail. With the help of cooperative games and action songs the inmates were given an opportunity to let go of their inhibitions and fears.

Blaise worked with the inmates on making newspaper collages as well as creating works with crayon and ink. The idea was to engage them in art-based activities – ones that could provide a colourful break from their otherwise difficult and isolating lives inside the prison compound.

Tihar Mural Prisoner profile
Mural made by inmates

The second part of the workshop involved the painting of a mural. To initiate the process, the inmates were asked to visualise what they would want to paint. Responses varied from their life stories to just things they enjoyed. A consensus was achieved on the elements of the mural through multiple rounds of discussion. Blaise then assisted the inmates in creating the artwork on a compound wall. A number of them visually illustrated their introspections and realisations, and memories from their lives before imprisonment.

The second part of the project entailed the boundary wall of the prison being painted. Since its inception, the prison has been a sort of elephant in the room for the region, its presence fraught with tension amongst residents of the neighbourhood. Could an art intervention humanise the area and change the perception of the prison complex?

'Chardiwari', a poem written by Seema Raghuvanshi, was painted on the boundary wall of the prison in distinct Devanagari typefaces developed specifically for the project.

‘Tinka Tinka Tihar’ is an anthology of poems written by the women inmates of Tihar Jail. One of the poems called ‘Chardiwari’ (‘Four walls’) penned by an inmate Seema Raghuvanshi talked about pain brought on by separation from loved ones and a desire to be with them. With a beautiful use of metaphor, the poem reflected on the inmates’ constant struggle to cope with mental isolation, while being confined physically.


Subeh likhti hun

Shaam likhti hun

Is chaar diwari mein bheti bas

Tera naam likhti hoon

In faaslon mein jo gam ki judai hai

Usi ko har baar likhti hoon

Ye mere shabd nahi

Dil ki awaz hai

Khwahish zinda hai sochti hun,

Sochti hun subeh toh hogi hi,

Iss aas mein hun

subeh likhti hun

Shaam likhti hun

Iss chaar diwari mein behti bas

Tera naam likhti hun

In faaslon mein jo gam ki judai hai

Usi ko har baar likhti hun

Yeh mere shabhd nah

Meri dil ki aawaz hai

Khwahish zinda hai sochti hun"

Working with hand-painted type, a project aimed at contemporising sign painters, the 90-word poem was painted on the boundary wall of the prison in distinct Devanagari typefaces developed specifically for the project. Over a fortnight, 10 local sign-painters and 5 sign-painters from Uttar Pradesh, along with 15 young street artists from India and abroad painted the 968 metres of the wall - making it the longest mural in India. The poem could be read as you drove alongside the boundary wall of the complex.

The Tihar Jail Project won the Kyoorius Black Elephant Prize, 2015. The Kyoorius Design Awards is well-regarded in awarding creative work in the Indian visual communications sphere.