In 1997 Bikash Bhattacharjee, the first artist to visit Maihar, was inspired by its natural beauty of it’s rural landscape. Deeply influenced by his stay at the Heritage Home, on his return to Kolkata he brought renewed life into the images of his canvas. Thus, he became the first of many artists to come and fall in with the pulse of this space. Over the years, painters, ceramicists, sculptors, writers, photographers, film makers and all sorts of creative individual streamed in, making Maihar a mecca of creative exploration and experimentation of multi-disciplines and philosophies. The project was welcomed with much enthusiasm by the art fraternity including eminent painters like Smt. Anjolie Ela Menon, Shri Paresh Maity and Shri Ravinder Reddy, to name just a few.
Workshops and professional collaborations were held every year with people from across the globe, encouraging experimentation and exploration that was new to artists. National and International artists were invited for artist-in-residence programs. They worked within these walls to leave behind the foundations of what would one day become the Centre. Many faces and memories filled the arches of the home with reminiscent photographs of fun moments and epic gatherings. Today they still smile as if to say they haven't left at all.
And hence they are all an integral part of Art Ichol’s story. Founding Director Ambica Beri realized this space could be the source of something much greater than these random gatherings. That it could all come together under one institution that would last for generations to come by sharing works of art with the world and being a catalyst for fresh and established creative talent. Here, artists would be able to enhance their skills, work in scale and material of their choice and explore new paths. Artists would have a multi-disciplinary skill center to discover new and hidden talent. They could combine their acumen and exploit the modern facilities here to bring out the best of creation. Resident artists would be able to travel for conventions and gain exposure through interacting, working and learning with various famous artists visiting the centre. Momentous works of art would be created and commissioned here.
Thus for three years under the boiling sun, thunderstorms and power cuts, Ambica Beri and her father, Suraj P Subherwal ,architect for Art Ichol, toiled and began to lay down the bricks of Ambica's dreams; blue prints that needed unwavering dedication and hard work. With a core team of three good men the work began with countless hurdles that had to be overcome like uneducated labour, lack of accessibility to amenities, infrastructure & raw material. But those involved were empowered by a divine purpose and Ambica's sheer grit, that all was not for nothing.
Installation artist Narayan Sinha from Bengal was commissioned to develop and conceptualize towards the sensibility of the distinctive Khaprael Kothi ,the centre's main gallery. It was envisioned to have a mélange of traditional and modern, functional and ecological. True to Narayan's style, he magically turned junk into iconic installations, utilitarian chandeliers, tables, fixtures. No attention to detail was spared.
Many friends and colleagues of the art fraternity visited while the centre was evolving and each contributed an insightful addition to the making. True to the mission of the centre, the making itself was testament to what combined minds and hands could bring forth. The centre was created in the Madhya Pradesh palette, with the classical influence of Indian art and craft, inspirited by surrounding ancient architecture and contemporary minimalism.
The centre opened its doors to the public with its inauguration on 21st February 2015. The opening was marked by a ceremony attended by the near and dear ones of the Art Ichol family. Candles were lit by all under a smiling crescent moon, and the Maihar Band performed in the presence of Baba's effigy at the Art Ichol amphitheater. The centre aims to sponsor underprivileged artists every year, enable and empower the local communities around Ichol and share this goodwill and value-addition with the art fraternity for the years to come. Yearly activities now include residencies, workshops, national and international artists' exchange programmes, and publishing of the annual Art Ichol journal and the MAI (Maihar Art Ichol) Festival for visual and performing arts in veneration of Maihar's deity Ma Sharda Devi and the godfather of Indian classical music Baba Allauddin Khan. Reviving Maihar as a centre for arts and music, the MAI Festival is held on 21st and 22nd February each year in celebration of the centre's opening anniversary.
To all the hands that laid its foundations, Art Ichol is dedicated to its makers, the dreamers and doers of this institution. May it stand for all it was created and fulfill the legacies of its patrons and philanthropists.