Around the City

Tihar Jail

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

In 2014, we curated a two-fold art-based intervention for the inmates. 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 complex.

One part of the project offered art as a means of expression to the inmates - done with artist Blaise who conducted workshops, 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.

Images from the workshop with Blaise, Tihar Jail, Delhi 2014

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

The second part of his workshop involved the painting of a mural. To initiate the process, he asked the inmates to visualise what they would want to paint. Responses varied from their life stories to just things they enjoyed. Many of them wanted to visually illustrate their memories from their lives before imprisonment. After reaching consensus on imagery, Blaise assisted them in creating the artwork on a compound wall of the complex.

Wall painting done by Blaise and inmates inside Tihar Jail, 2014

Since its inception, the prison complex has been considered an anomaly in the region. Could an art intervention humanise the area and change the perception of the prison complex? To do this, the second part of the project entailed the boundary wall of the prison being painted.

‘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.

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.


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