Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sahmat protests shutting down of Sunil Gupta's exhibition

Art theorist and friend, Ranjit Hoskote alerted us to a protest by SAHMAT against the shutting down of the Sunil Gupta exhibition in Delhi. Signatories to the protest are friend of Out of Print Ram Rahman, Gita Kapur, Vivan Sundaram and Indira Chandrasekhar (not the Out of Print editor but the publisher from Tulika Books, Delhi).

We append the letter below.

We are shocked to read that the exhibition of photographs by Sunil Gupta mounted by the Alliance Francais in Delhi as a part of their Francophone Festival was shut down shortly after its opening. The show opened with a large attendance of Delhi's artists at which Aruna Roy, the highly regarded social activist, also gave a speech. Apparently the Delhi police arrived at the venue on the complaint of an individual that there were nude images on display. One section of the exhibition had images made in Paris for a show of contemporary Indian art at the famed Center Pompidou last year, which had funded the project. There is nothing obscene about these photographs, many of which have been published in Indian newspapers and art magazines before and are in the public realm.

The Alliance Francais needs to publicly clarify if they were ordered to shut down the exhibit by the Delhi police and if so, on what grounds. If major institutions like them cannot stand up against complaints made by a single individual and support the work of an artist they have invited to exhibit, they do not deserve the respect or patronage of the art community. It is specially ironic that a French institution would buckle under so easily. We hope the Alliance will clarify the circumstances which have led to yet another instance of moral policing against the freedom of expression.

Ram Rahman, Geeta Kapur, Vivan Sundaram, Indira Chandrasekhar


The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust
29 Ferozeshah Road, New Delhi 110001
Tel: 2338 1276

1 comment:


    This is a statement issued by the Alliance Francaise de Delhi, in consultation with the President of the Alliance Francaise (Delhi) and the Cultural Committee of the Governing Body, following the premature and undue closure of the photographic exhibition by Sunil Gupta entitled Sun City and Other Stories.
    To begin with, we would like to assert that ever since it was established, the Alliance Francaise has always supported and endorsed cultural activities associated with the Freedom of Speech and Expression. It was in this spirit that we offered and used our institutional resources to organise the mentioned exhibition by well-known photographer and artist, Sunil Gupta.
    The exhibition was in fact inaugurated at 7.30pm on Friday, 23 March 2012 and was attended by over a hundred persons, including a cross-section of important personalities and luminaries. However, within two hours of its opening, a contingent of six policemen entered the gallery premises and insisted that the exhibition be closed. It was later intimated that the exhibition was in violation of Sections 188 and 292 of the Indian Penal Code.
    The Alliance Francaise used available means to resolve the matter and continue with the show. However, on continued persistence from the police, the Alliance was compelled to close the exhibition, which was done under duress and protest in the presence of the artist.
    Following this unfortunate episode, because the Alliance believed it should still support the freedom of artistic expression, consulted the artist and its President, and decided to re-open the exhibition on Wednesday, 4 April 2012. The Alliance, therefore, re-fabricated the exhibition again at significant expense and even provided for additional security measures. However, prior to the second opening, a similar pattern ensued with intimation from the police that they would not permit the exhibition in its original form as they were bound to receive complaints and agitations regarding the nature of the exhibition. At this point, to avoid any further controversy or damage to the artwork and premises, the re-opening was cancelled. It is pertinent to point out that even though the police had publicly stated that the content of the exhibition was not objectionable or unlawful, their verbal direction to the Alliance was to the contrary and was the governing factor in the decision to cancel the show.
    We would like to re-state that the Alliance firmly believes in the Freedom of Expression. However, as a cultural institution, it has to be mindful of local cultural sensitivities. While it does not accept the conclusion of the police - that the content of the exhibition is obscene - the Alliance was constrained to adhere to the directions of the police. In addition, even though the legality of the police action is questionable, their intimidatory tactics on both occasions sufficiently justify the Alliance Française decisions.

    The Alliance Francaise has taken this time to gather the necessary information regarding what has happened, and to seek legal advice to get clarity on its rights and duties so that such unfortunate situations are avoided in the future. We hope that you appreciate the difficult and unprecedented position the Alliance was placed in and the steps that are now being taken to preserve the integrity of art and culture in India by this institution.

    Governing Body of Alliance Francaise De Delhi.