All About The Cholamandal Artists' Village In Tamil Nadu

Cholamandal Artists' Village is a haven for art enthusiasts and a celebration of artistic expression. Among its top attractions are the museum, art galleries and an open-air theatre
Cholamandal Artists' Village
Cholamandal Artists' VillageWikimedia Commons

Beaches and temples make for prominent tourist hot spots when exploring Tamil Nadu. However, the state is also a hub of art and culture, with museums displaying collections of stone carvings, wood crafts etc. Among its less-explored attractions, Cholamandal Artists' Village is an exemplary gem. What's intriguing about the place is its journey, which started at the time of the Madras Art Movement, making it the cradle of the iconic phase. Today, Cholamandal is an ideal destination for anyone interested in diving deep into art and culture. 


About 57 years ago, a sandy stretch of land by the sea, dotted with casuarina trees, became a haven for aspiring artists. They named it Cholamandal Village, a melting point of all things artistic and indigenous. Pioneered by KCS Paniker, the commune came in 1966 on a 10-acre land with over 30 resident artists who built their homes while working in this creative community.

The idea of an 'all artists village' struck during a classroom discussion when Paniker, the then principal of the Government College of Arts, advised his students to look for alternative ways of earning income through their art, which would generally perish due to lack of opportunities. With no galleries or exhibitions, many students with traditional and abstract art expertise would struggle to make ends meet after graduation. The bleakness of the circumstances was stark, but there was hope, as shown by Paniker, who understood the gravity of his counterpart's struggles.

The legendary artist didn't want the canvases to lose their vibrancy amidst a feeble job market and Western influence. He suggested his students work as a commune and seek inspiration from nativism for their work. The idea was to give a solid indigenous flavour to their works by using their modern sensibilities.

The first step prompted these artists to put up an exhibition in 1965 that reportedly collected INR 50,000 back then. There was revelry and excitement, leaving these artists mulling over how to put that amount to the right use. It was decided to invest 10 per cent of the earnings into a co-working and living space. And that's how Cholamandal Artists' Village was born. Located in Injambakkam, then a fishing hamlet, the area was bought to set up the artists' commune.

The old banyan tree at the Cholamandal village
The old banyan tree at the Cholamandal villageWikimedia Commons

From Thatched Roofs To Amphitheatre: Attractions

The first cohort of seven artists erected thatched huts to live and work. The number of founding members rose from 7 to 30, hailed as the pioneers of Indian art. Today, the premises are adorned with a sculpture garden and everything artistic with traces of the past. The artwork stands out in craftsmanship and finesse, with bronze, wood, and granite pieces. The village has developed an open-air theatre, a bookstore, a craft shop and a restaurant among the modern-day developments. Find exquisite pieces, from traditional to abstract, made of granite, wood and bronze.

Moreover, the cultural performances at the open-air theatre are a treat for culture lovers. The space is also used for poetry and reading sessions. Besides, what drives the most attention are the two galleries, the Labernum in the HK Kejriwal wing and Indigo in the Tulsyan wing honouring the works of Cholamandal Village Artists and their contribution to the Madras Art Movement. There is also an international sculpture park, a guest house, and studios for visiting artists.

The Way Forward

Cholamandal Center for Contemporary Art
Cholamandal Center for Contemporary ArtWikimedia Commons

As of May 2023, only 12 of the 30 founding members are alive, of which only five continue to live in the village. The village's charm is gradually fading with more non-artist residents occupying the area. Thatched houses have been torn down and replaced with modern aesthetics. The village's landscape is being urbanised, with only remnants of the past on display. However, this has not jolted the spirits of these revolutionary artists, who believe in evolving with time. They hold to their heart the core of Cholamandal as a first-of-its-kind village of aspiring artists and their contribution to the Indian art movement.  

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