Nek Chand Saini of India is not a classically trained artist. He didn’t go to art schools and he didn’t travel the world to visit famous art galleries. What he did have, though, was a passion for the world of art. So, lacking a conventional outlet for his creativity, Chand turned to his surroundings for inspiration.
Chand began collecting rubble from destroyed buildings. To others, these scraps of rock and metal were nothing more than trash. To Chand, this rubble would act as a canvas that would allow him to explore the realm of art and beauty. Chand assembled the rubble to create stunning sculptures of just about everything imaginable — dancers, musicians, birds, dogs, walking paths, and walled courtyards.
What truly makes this story so remarkable is that Chand did all of this in secret. He built the statues in an area of land devoted to conservation, which meant that he was technically misusing public property. His project went undiscovered for a full 18 years until authorities finally stumbled upon it in 1975. By then, Chand had already expanded the rock garden into a massive 12-acre complex.
Authorities thought about taking a wrecking ball to the whole complex, but with the public’s thumbs up they eventually decided to designate the garden as a public space. They gave Chand a respectable salary and 50 workers so that he could build upon his artistic vision.
The rock garden has since become a cultural landmark in India, attracting thousands of visitors eager to meet Chand’s village of quirky, recycled characters.
What I love so much about Chand’s artwork is how it seamlessly combines natural and artificial art into a cohesive whole. Chand’s use of recycled materials gives viewers a chance to imagine what the cracked pebbles and broken ceramic tiles used to be before they were reduced to a pile of rubble. The raw, fragmented appearance of the sculptures almost makes it seem as though the ground itself gave birth to these earthen characters.
The true centerpiece of this rock garden is the stunning waterfall. Like everything else in the rock garden, the waterfall is not at all ostentatious. The water humbly trickles down a short wall where it empties into a shallow pool. The waterfall also captures the artificial-natural duality that permeates the garden. The waterfall appears perfectly natural with its uneven flow and the thick green moss, but the rippled wall looks like the side of an ancient, ruined building. It’s the same message that Chand is sending with all of his other sculptures: nature and art can reclaim trash heaps to transform them into something truly beautiful.
Chand’s art reminds me of Wabi-sabi, the Japanese aesthetic that finds beauty in temporary, imperfect things. This tea set, while not terribly extravagant, exhibits rustic beauty. It’s important to recognize that some beautiful things won’t last forever. This lesson is at the core of environmental art.
You don’t need to go over-the-top if you want to create a beautiful aquascape. You don’t need massive marble statues, flashing LEDs, choreographed fountains, and glittering steel monuments. All you really need is a healthy respect for the natural world and a piece of art that highlights the humble beauty of the earth. Combine water with wood or stone and you’re practically guaranteed to have a gorgeous aquascape that highlights the unassuming grace of the world around us.