14 May 2007

Art Attack – What’s wrong with it?

By Nalini S Malaviya

Artists in Bangalore feel strongly about the arrest of art student Chandramohan in Vadodara. An incident, which is making headlines across the country, it is being criticized by the entire art community for its highhandedness and fundamentalist approach. Chandramohan, a final year student of Fine Arts at the MS University, Baroda was arrested on charges of obscenity, during the annual student evaluation where students present their projects. Coming close on the heels of the Husain controversy, most artists feel art is being targeted increasingly. Eminent Bangalore artist SG Vasudeva finds no justification for such an incident, "what is happening in Baroda is unimaginable. How could the Police enter the institution and arrest a student who was putting up his artwork for the sake of examination? It is unheard of! The action of the Vice Chancellor is equally shocking. Instead of protecting his student and the institution from the Police and from the ‘Moral policing persons’, he asks the student to apologize and sacks the Dean of Fine Arts Faculty for supporting the cause of student/s. The ‘Fundamentalists’ are taking the law into their own hands and or politicizing the Police and bring fear amongst the right thinking people.”

Artist Jasu Rawal from Vadodara now settled in Bangalore also feels police action against students is not healthy. He believes, “there should be an assessment of the intention behind such activities. Often jealousy or political motivation can be the moving factor behind such incidents. I have not seen the works, but if there is something, which needs to be criticized it should be discussed and debated in the right fora.”

Having studied at MS University, Ravikumar Kashi clarifies that all students’ present their artworks for internal assessment before a jury. Often, there are visitors who come in out of curiosity, but the intention is not to present this before outsiders. I have not seen the specific images but from what I have heard, it is along the lines of Tantric art, which has a long history in our country. Sculptures from Ajanta, Khajuraho and most temples are erotic in nature and this is not a concept new to us. In my opinion, we need to make them (fundamentalist) see things in the right context and at the same time we condemn this kind of policing. The silent protest planned to be held later in the day (6 pm MG Road) hopes to bring justice to Chandramohan. A letter addressed to the Governor of Gujarat is also being prepared.

Babu Eeshwar Prasad also feels that art is being targeted much more now than in the past. He says, “fundamentalists are using it to get mileage for themselves.” In fact, art has often been considered to be gimmicky and publicity oriented in the past, but now it seems to have become a ready prop for those looking for their two minutes of glory. Of late, many artists have drawn flak over their paintings and installations (remember last year’s show in Mumbai!), which has given rise to a lot of debate on the need for censorship. Vasudeva elaborates, “As a creative person I know my boundaries. No one needs to ‘censor’ my work. It is actually a fundamental freedom of expression that is being questioned. We should not allow ‘Talibanisation’ in our Country."
Although, the artist community is strongly against it, many people feel there is a need for moderation and sensitivity from the artists as well. I remember meeting a very senior artist from Mumbai who said that artists are not operating in a vacuum, they also have a social responsibility and they should be sensitive to the feelings of the viewers. The debate continues, but surely in a democracy, we can do without extremism

Watch this space for more…