May 14, 2007

Fine Art

Without web and news access for some days, I completely missed events in Baroda last week. Until we returned to where signals can find us last evening, and a message from Dionne got through.

For what it's worth, I'm paraphrasing here email received from Peter Griffin. Wish I could attend one or another of the meetings this evening, but I'm nowhere near any of them.

But you: Be there, or be there.

More info: FineArtsFacultyMSU blog. Manjula Padmanabhan.


By now, you would have read, heard or seen the news of the arrest of a student, Chandra Mohan, and the suspension of the dean of Maharaja Sayajirao University's Fine Arts faculty in Baroda, Prof. Shivaji Panikker.

Simultaneous all-India public protest: 14th May 2007, 6 pm. (TODAY!)

New Delhi - Rabindra Bhavan
Mumbai - Jehangir Gallery
Vishakhapatinam - Faculty of Fine Arts, Andhra University
Cochin - Kashi Art Café
Hyderabad - Fine Arts, S N School, University of Hyderabad
Bangalore - M G Road, opposite Gandhi statue
Santiniketan - Kala Bhavan
Guwahati - Press Club

Those attending are requested to wear black and/or white.


Hindu Sacred Art Offends Self-appointed Custodians of Hindu Culture
by Ranjit Hoskote

In a grimly ironic turn of events following the 9 May arrest, without a proper warrant, of Chandramohan, a final-year fine arts student at the M S University, Baroda, the self-appointed custodians of Hindu culture have now demanded the closure of an exhibition showing the vital role of the erotic in Hindu sacred art.

Earlier today, 11 May, students of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the M S University put up an exhibition of reproductions of images drawn from across 2500 years of Indian art. In a silent protest against the brutality with which their fellow student has been treated for exhibiting works that BJP and VHP activists claim are offensive and obscene, the students put up pictures of the Gudimallam Shiva, perhaps the earliest known Shiva image, which combines the lingam with an anthropomorphic form; a Kushan mukha-linga or masked lingam; Lajja-gouris from Ellora and Orissa, resplendent in their fecund nakedness; erotic statuary from Modhera, Konark and Khajuraho; as well as Raga-mala paintings from Rajasthan. All these images, among the finest produced through the centuries in the subcontinent, celebrate the sensuous and the passionate dimensions of existence – which, in the Hindu world-view, are inseparably twinned with the austere and the contemplative.

This treasure of Hindu sacred art did not win the favour of the establishment. The Pro Vice Chancellor issued a verbal request that the exhibition be closed, which the Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty, Dr Shivaji Panikkar, ignored. A written order followed, and was similarly ignored. The Pro Vice Chancellor then arrived at the venue, accompanied by some members of the Syndicate of the University. They requested Dr Panikkar to close down the exhibition, then ordered him to do so. When it became clear that the Dean would not bend to their will, they had the exhibition locked.

It appears that the champions of a resurgent Hindu identity are acutely embarrassed by the presence of the erotic at the centre of Hindu sacred art. As they may well be, for the roots of Hindutva do not lie in Hinduism. Rather, they lie in a crude mixture of German romanticism, Victorian puritanism and Nazi methodology.

What happens next? Will the champions of Hindutva go around the country destroying temple murals, breaking down monuments, and burning manuscripts and folios?


Open Letter from Gulammohammed Sheikh

Dear friends

You must have known through media reports that Chandra Mohan, a student from the Department of Graphics at the Fine Arts College in Baroda has been arrested on 9th of May 2007 for making an allegedly controversial painting depicting nude figures with some religious motifs. The arrest followed the storming of the university premises by a group of outsiders. The work in question was part of a display in the college premises for assessment by a team of examiners for a Master's degree in Fine Arts. Charged with sections 153 and 114 as well as sections 295 A and 295 B, he has been denied bail and is presently in Central Jail, Baroda.

In a civilized society any dispute on a controversial depiction or content of a work of art can be dealt with through dialogue and consultation with experts in the field rather than left to self-appointed moral police employing coersive means. In the present case, the outsiders taking law into their hands barged into the university campus without prior permission, did not consult or inform the Dean of the Faculty before disrupting the annual examinations in progress. The reports are that they returned again to abuse the Dean and threatened him with dire consequences.

Such an instance of assault on a student by outsiders in the university premises is unprecedented in the history of the Faculty of Fine Arts and must be condemned in no uncertain terms. The Fine Arts College known nationally and internationally for upholding the highest standards of creative and critical practice has also earned reputation for its firm commitment to the freedom of expression. The former authorities of the university like Smt. Hansa Mehta, the very first Vice Chancellor in the fifties up to Prof. Bhikhu Parekh in the eighties have stood by the Faculty and its ideals. The present assault seems to strike at the very ideals on which it was built by pioneering artist-academics and supported by enlightened university authorities. The present administration of the university has not initiated any action against the trespassers or applied for bail for the victimized student. The students and staff of the Fine Arts College have organized a dharna and the Acting Dean, Prof. Shivaji Panikker has planned to undertake a hunger strike in the College premises against the assault on the student and callous attitude of the university authorities. (Latest report is that the Department of Art History has been sealed and Prof Panikker has been suspended by the university authorities). A solidarity demonstration of artists, intellectuals and cultural workers from all over India is called on 14th of May at the Fine Arts College premises beginning 2 pm with an appeal to all concerned to gather there to lend their support. (Contact details below*).

As an alumnus and former teacher of the Faculty of Fine Arts, I fear these developments may imperil the working of an institution which in many ways has formed our lives; and is indeed an integral part of what we are today. I hope all other alumni and teachers as well as concerned artists and intellectuals of the country will come forward to protect it in its moment of crisis when the values it stands for are threatened.

Gulammohammed Sheikh
11th May, 2007


Anonymous said...

I read this in the paper yesterday and was hoping there would be protests. The way MS University got bullied by the Hindutva chaps and suspended the professor, a man who, I think, showed rare bravery, was shameful! Sadly, at the moment I am in Kanpur, not Delhi.

Anonymous said...

The protests against this incodent are so many - an All India protest for a local incident.
Now where were Ghulam Mohd Sheikh and other noteworthies when the Cartoon protests/riots were going on or protests/riots when President George Bush visited India?
Dilip once again when we had total silence from all the necessary people who mattered during the above 2 incidents why deny the VHP/Bajrang Dal their 15 minutes of fame?

Anonymous said...

I think the lesson here is about consequences and responsibilities. You express yourself, whether via art or protest, you had better be aware of the consequences. Free speech is a great power, but like all great powers, it comes with responsibilities. Protest is just as great a power, but it too comes with responsibilities.

I will defend an artist's right to draw whatever the hell he wants to. But if he wants to draw something that will profoundly offend someone, I will tell him he should not do it.

Amrit said...

Hmm...I wonder what were Mr. Gulammohammed Sheikh's views on Danish cartoonist controversy, or when the Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh was stabbed for making a film on Islamic culture. Were there candlelight marches? Did the intellectuals gather and sang songs or performed street plays? Nothing much was stirred in the "secular" circles.

I too strongly object the arrest of Chandra Mohan and the vandalizing of the arts faculty, and the artists of our country should be free to draw or sculpt whatever they feel like, but what I loath is the lopsided attitude. Can one draw Allah (with all due respect to the Prophet) with his penis hanging out, or ejaculating? No. The artist will be killed and the secular media will term it as a cultural attack. It's the secular (the actual meaning of secularism is long dead, what remains is a misconstrued, brainwashed caricature) attitude of mollycoddling a particular community that gives teeth to the xenophobic organizations like the Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal. Let there be secular fairness and these organizations will die their natural death because in actuality they have no place in our civil, really secular society.

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