Wednesday, December 4, 2013

EDITORIAL - Balbir Krishan, Human Rights and Queer Rights Activists and the Imaginary Right Wing Fundamentalist..

Balbir Krishan, Human Rights and Queer Rights Activists, and the Imaginary Right Wing Fundamentalist
(Artist Balbir Krishan)
On Sunday (1st December) morning, I received a phone call from Balbir Krishan. He called me from Hyderabad to inform me that his show was ‘brought down’ by the gallerist after he received threats from some unidentified people. Balbir was in distress as the gallerist refused to furnish him with a proper explanation. The show was at the Muse Gallery inside the high end Marriot Hotel and the opening on 30th November 2013 had brought so many movers and shakers of the city to the gallery. According to Balbir, things were smooth and cool till the opening festivities lasted. But according to the gallerist, who later spoke to some of the press representatives, a few right wing activists had approached him after the opening and asked him to bring the show down as the artist’s works were against ‘Indian Culture’. Fearing ugly consequences and also recognising the value of the property where the gallery is located and the respectable patrons of the property, the gallerist decided to comply with the demand of the hooligans.
Here I am at a loss for words and in a dilemma. Should I criticise the right wing fundamentalists who threatened the show or should I go after the gallerist who without raising a finger brought the show down? Who is the actual culprit here? In the social networking sites, I have already seen petitions being circulated by some reputed art personalities. And I am sure this ethical agitation against the moral police of the country in the virtual space would find success at some point. But what worries me is not the handful of hooligans and their threat but the fear of a gallerist who knew the ‘qualities’ of the artist he was exhibiting. While I appreciate his concern for the hotel property I do not agree with his idea of closing down the show unilaterally even without informing the artist or his friends. Had it not been the ‘community’ as Balbir qualifies his friends crying foul, the issue would have gone unnoticed; a private pain of the artist who has been facing this threat of ostracism from the mainstream community for the last few years. I am also concerned about the fear factor that even prevented the gallerist from approaching the legal authorities. Don’t we have a legal system in place to handle such ‘fundamentalists’ who could take up law in their hands and act according to their volition?
(Work which was on display at the show)
Someone has to take up the issue. Today, we see the artist and his ‘community’ and some friends of this community demanding action against the usual abstract theme of moral policing. But let us address it squarely and concretely. We have a very recent incident in the Tarun Tejpal sex scandal. When Vijay Jolly, a senior BJP leader in Delhi ‘performed’ his moral agitation in full view of the press cameras, against the former Managing Editor of Tehelka, Shoma Choudhury, even the BJP leaders who have been asking for Tejpal’s blood came out in unison to condemn the act of Vijay Jolly. This gives us some hope. Even during the election time, the political parties in this country, in a changing socio-political and cultural scenario could openly condemn the people of their own tribe for unreasonable acts of vandalism. Here the gallerist could have taken some courage to approach the police or political leaders and asked whether this moral policemen were sent by them or not. He could have directly approached the Police to give protection, both for himself and the artist. Now, the real question is when he was protecting the interest of the hotel property and its patrons, he was, despite being an art promoter, not protecting the interest of the artist and his works. Balbir, while speaking to me, almost on the verge of tears, showed the fear of his years of labour and love getting destroyed by the hooligans.
I do not think that eroticism or nudity is a problem in Indian contemporary art. If those were real problems and the right wing moral police were really keen on protecting the so called ‘Indian culture’ (is it so brittle to be broken into pieces by nudity or eroticism? If so, isn’t it necessary to burn down all the bookshops in this country for all of them showcases the books on sex? When you start burning down bookstalls, libraries and art galleries you are actually several steps close to Nazism and fascism) they would have done this act of vandalism to most of the galleries and artists. As it is not the case we have to look elsewhere for an answer. There is a clear mark of homophobia in the case Balbir’s show. The male nudes are painted by a gay artist and the bodies of these nudes are created out of porn images amply available in the internet space. I do not justify pornography in whatever form but when an artist uses pornographic images for certain aesthetic purpose, within the context of such deliberations, it has to be accepted. The second case is, these hooligans want their fifteen minutes of fame by protecting ‘Indian culture’. This eagerness and urgency was very much visible in the infamous Chandramohan case in Baroda in 2007.
( Work which was displayed at the show)
Balbir is a Hindu. He has painted male nudes. He has referred to pornographic images in his works. In fact all these should put him into the big league of contemporary artists. But if someone is trying to single him out for attack, then our focus should be on the fact that he is a gay. Our middleclass moralities do not want people with different orientations. Here Balbir has a different sexual orientation and he is a fighter. Years ago, when he was a student, while coming back from Agra he had met with an accident, causing the amputation of his legs. He, however did not succumb to his handicap. He overcame the disadvantages by giving it a real fight. He is now engaged to a man who works as a  teacher in the American embassy school and is planning to get married next year. This engagement with a foreigner has literally ostracized him in his village. His parents have disowned him. These things have not deterred him from doing his works. He teaches in a school and does his paintings in his studio. I do not know whether the hooligans had done a thorough homework before targeting Balbir’s show. But they knew that he was a gay, I am sure. Or I feel, even the protectors of Indian culture have double standards: when middle class heterosexual men do thoroughly pornographic works of art, they are left untouched by these hooligans. I wonder why T.Venkanna’s works shown regularly in Abhay Maskara’s gallery in Mumbai and in many other art fairs, are not attacked by hooligans whereas Balbir is targeted. That does not mean that I am calling for an attack on Venkanna’s works. Anyway, they are not going to last. 
First time when Balbir was targeted in Delhi in 2012 January, I was the catalogue writer for his show at the Lalit Kala Akademy. A day before closing, he was manhandled by a group of people and a few paintings were pulled down. None took the responsibility of doing it. But obviously the shadows were cast on the right wingers. This incident had brought Balbir a lot of publicity. Since then, he became a regular artist in the queer shows as well as other exhibitions. Balbir is not an activist-artist in the generic sense. But he lives a very dignified life. Facebooking has given him a lot of presence and earned him a lot of friends and followers. At times I have felt that he is overdoing it in Facebook. But Facebook is a flexible platform where the private could conveniently become public and vice versa. Before we jump to conclusions and go after the mythical right wing fundamentalist, we should demand to know the truth of it. Only the gallerist could provide us with the whereabouts of the hooligans who had brought the show down. If we know the culprit, perhaps, as in the case of Vijay Jolly, we could treat the disease quickly. I request the activists to know the truth before they go against an imaginary enemy in the rightwing fundamentalist.



Living Architecture

( work on display)
Tasveer and Vacheron Constantin present, Andreas Volwahsen - ‘Living Architecture’, an exhibition of photographs celebrating India's most beautiful heritage sites. 

Andreas Volwahsen is chiefly celebrated as an architectural historian, and these photographs were originally taken to illustrate his first two academic books, ‘Living Architecture: Islamic India’ (1968) and ‘Living Architecture: India’ (1971). 

Inviting the viewer to comprehend the design, geometry and technical accomplishment of India’s architecture, these images rise far above the merely descriptive. They demonstrate Volwashen's aspirations for a deeper understanding of ancient Indian architecture, but also reveal strong formal undercurrents of German modernist photography.

The show is on view at the ICIA Gallery, Mumbai till 10th December 2013.

To Eternity and back

( Work on display)
The Viewing Room, Mumbai presents ‘To Eternity and Back’ an exhibition of photography by Shirrin. The pictures are a mix of photographs taken in Mumbai and NewYork. 

To Eternity and Back is a collection of enchanting visions of ephemeral and timeless moments that reflect the grand miracle of nature as well as intimate encounters with the everyday in New York City. 

Saturated hues bathe sunsets, oceanic views and buildings so that they merge into a Divine order, palpitating with the oneness of being. These ethereal visions of beauty are meditations on presence and they call forth the viewer to contemplate the fullness of our existence here and now.

The show is on view till 6th December 2013.

Melting the Cosmos

Kalakriti Art Gallery, Hyderabad, presents ‘Melting the Cosmos’ - an exhibition of sculptures by Y Shivarama Chary. Shivarama Chary and his art has evolved in the past few years and moved into a new trajectory. The inspiration is more and more from within, examining emotions and feelings with a singular determination. 

The object of this examination often is the reality of the self and its content. In contrast with his earlier work, where such an interrogation led to an abiding engagement with the world around, the current work makes him gaze upwards in search for a cosmic order. 

The show is on view till 31st December 2013.

Discovering More
( work on display)
La Makaan, Hyderabad, presents a week-long painting exhibition where the two artists exhibit what they have enjoyed painting. Its varied and not necessarily fits into any particular genre. 

The paintings are by artist Sudha Kolluru, Centre Manager in a school, an enthusiastic artist and by Anjum Ziaee freelancing artist designer and art teacher. On a new journey they encounter a new thought and a new day everyday, where sometimes colours help them spill their thoughts on canvas or paper to teach them the value of every passing moment. 

The show is on view till 6th December 2013.

(News reports by Sushma Sabnis)

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