Brush with Chennai’s permanent art exhibition

“Why you not drawing?”
I turned to look at the man next to me, standing behind the easel he’d just set up. I had my sketchbook out in front of me, but it seemed I had forgotten a pencil. Not to worry, though — my new friend opened his supply case, sifting through dusty sticks of charcoal and paintbrushes to make sure I was all fitted out.

It was Sunday morning just outside Chennai, Tamil Nadu, and I’d made my way to the Cholamandal Artists’ Village for its weekly sketching class. Founded in 1966, the village today is India’s largest artists’ commune, home to over twenty painters and sculptors, who reside and work on-site. Although not a professional artist, I was still intrigued by the Cholamandal community and hoped that taking part in one of its classes would show me a different side to the country.

Before the morning got started, I had a chance to wander through the complex’s Labernum and Indigo Gallery, an elegant open space with glistening stone floors and white walls that made for a perfect backdrop for the exhibit. Titled “Lives and Livelihoods of Fisherfolk,” it featured six local Indian artists, each working in a different medium—from pen-and-ink watercolor to metal sculpture—to tell the story of “the sea and the people associated with it.”

But it was out in the village’s courtyard, seated beneath the shade of a wide leafy tree that I got to know the world of Cholamandal. I met both local and expat artists alike, such as Isabel, a French woman who recently moved to Chennai and comes here every Sunday, and S. Jayaraj, whose charcoal drawings of traditional Sri Lankan fishermen were also included in the exhibit.

On one side of the courtyard, objects had been set up on a small table for a still-life, including a conch shell, small metal teapot and a statue that proved far more intricate for my drawing abilities. But the others in the group dove right in, pulling out pencils, oil paints and charcoal to capture the scene. Sometimes I drew, but other times I simply let my pencil rest and watched the world around me.

As we took a break for tea and biscuits halfway through, I thought about how the rise in creative tourism around the world has opened up new ways of engaging with the countries we visit. Whether it’s cooking with a family in Delhi or sketching with local artists in Chennai, I’ve loved seeking out cultural activities to take part in on the road. The transformation from passive to active traveler can make all the difference in connecting with a place.

Just as the morning came to an end, another man walked up and looked over my shoulder. His name was B. O. Shailesh and although he was also one of the artists featured in the exhibition, he still comes to Cholamandal every Sunday morning.

“We are more of a club than a class. Anyone can come if they are interested,” Shailesh told me as we packed up our materials. “But we are here if anyone is having doubts. We will see you next week?”

My sketchbook in hand, I told him I was soon moving further south and regretted that I wouldn’t be able to make it. But for one morning, at least, I was part of the club.


  • Cholamandal is located nearly twenty kilometers south of central Chennai, on East Coast Road in the Injambakkam region.
  • There is no official website for the village. You can contact them by phone at 044-4926092.
  • To reach, you can hire a taxi from Chennai (expect to pay around Rs 250 – 300 one-way) or take a bus to Injambakkam township.
  • Visiting hours are from 9.30 am – 6.30 pm, when you can tour various galleries and artist workshops, and the Sunday morning sketching club meets from 11 am – 1 pm. You could also inquire into staying in one of their two guesthouses for Rs 1,000 a night.

Author: Candace Rardo

Freelance writer + photographer MA Travel Writing


  1. Hi Nandhini,

    I am artist S Jayaraj from Chennai and I am so glad to see this piece of writing from you. After reading this article, I so vividly remembered you asking me for the pencil to draw. 🙂 I would like to send you the image of that still life drawing that I did that day – the day you were in Chola Mandal….Please send me your email ID and I will send you the image. And it will be nice to keep in touch with you.

    Thank you once again for the wonderful sharing of your experience at Chola Mandal Artists’ Village.

    Best regards,

    S Jayaraj
    Artist, Chennai

  2. Hello, Mr. Jayaraj! Thanks so much for getting in touch here. I so enjoyed my time at Cholamandel and hope to visit again one day. I’ve sent you an email and look forward to hearing from you! Best wishes, Candace

  3. Very nice post n sketches../

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