Artists, curators condemn disruption of artwork at India Art Fair

New Delhi, Feb 9 (PTI) Several artists on Sunday condemned the India Art Fair for not standing with the artists whose work was interrupted during an event here, saying its attitude was 'absolutely unethical and prejudiced'.

In a statement, artists and curators, including Puneet Kaushik, Shukla Sawant, Annapurna Garimella, Shefalee Jain, Lokesh Khodke and Sindhura, demanded that the India Art Fair (IAF) apologise to the artists.

'We, the undersigned, express solidarity with the young artists who were subjected to intimidation and discrimination at and by the India Art Fair (IAF) on February 2, 2020. We strongly condemn the absolutely unethical and prejudiced attitude displayed by the Fair management towards these artists,' the statement said.

On February 2, a performative art piece curated by Myna Mukherjee at the fair's Italian Embassy Culture Centre booth was interrupted abruptly by the police following an anonymous complaint that some paintings against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act were being exhibited.

The art featured paintings as well as songs including Faiz Ahmad Faiz's 'Hum Dekhenge', and poetry recitations talking about the love, beauty, tenderness and the strength of women across the country.

The statement noted that while the police intimidated the participating artists and proceeded to shut down the performance entirely, the officials at IAF did not intervene.

'The officials at the fair, instead of stepping in and listening to the artists and examining the situation fully, abdicated their responsibilities and left the artists and the curator to reason and negotiate with the police,' it said.

'The key question remains why IAF not only failed to stand by the artists but were also active participants in the harassment meted out to them,' the charitable trust said in the statement.

It further added that the IAF's behaviour was 'absolutely discriminatory' considering the police complaint was based on the fact that the artwork was being prepared by 'someone wearing clothes resembling the women sitting in Shaheen Bagh'.

'It is not acceptable to allow artists' expression to be curtailed on account of an anonymous complaint, especially when that complaint reeks of nothing but deep seated and reprehensible Islamophobia.

'The fact that the art fair has tried to insulate itself from the ongoing movement against CAA, NRC, and NPR by creating a 'zero-tolerance' policy against banners and sloganeering is a troubling violation of the right to dissent,' it said.

It also noted that the IAF's policy framed in terms of safety is ignorant and misleading given that 'those participating in this non-violent movement have actually been at the receiving end of brutal violence in the form of lathi charge, beating, and even bullets at hands of security forces and law-enforcement agencies'.

'That the same agencies were allowed to target and intimidate young artists on the basis of an Islamophobic complaint is an unacceptable lack of sensitivity towards the vulnerability of marginalized peoples in this current political milieu,' the artists said.

They said 'ideologies of bigotry' cannot be allowed to determine who can create art, where they can create it, what its content can be or what artists can wear while making it.

The artists also criticised the fair management's claim that they were unaware of the details of the art programme in question.

'They have further later claimed to the police and public that they had no knowledge that the event was happening, which has since been proved to be false as the artists leading the programme have publicly shared the invitation in which the event is listed. This invitation had been widely circulated at and prior to the fair. Other artists at the fair have even attested to this,' the CWST statement read.

The invitations as well as the fair schedule, available and circulated among visitors, described the performative project 'The Wall' as a community art building mural led by the Post Art Project.

During the commotion at the fair, one of the artworks has also allegedly been misplaced, regarding which the Italian Embassy as well as the IAF released a joint statement on Saturday.

'We have come to a common understanding on the requirements and procedures that need to be carried out for the installation of the exhibition booth within the fair. We regret to learn about a missing artwork from the booth and we consider this to be an unfortunate incident,' it read.

'The Embassy of Italy would like to thank the India Art Fair for their support in all the stages related to Italy's contribution to the India Art Fair and is looking forward to participating in the next edition in 2021,' the statement added. PTI TRS MG DPB