An exhibition at the India Art Fair in Delhi, displaying paintings inspired by women at the Capital’s Shaheen Bagh locality and other Citizenship Amendment Act protests, was disrupted on Sunday, PTI reported. The police arrived at the NSIC Exhibition Ground in Okhla after a complaint was registered that paintings against the amended citizenship law were being showcased.
“We received a PCR call that some paintings depicting the CAA were being exhibited at the fair,” an unidentified senior police official told PTI. “A police team was sent to check it, but no such painting was exhibited.”
Gargi Chandola, a participating artist, said the art at the Italian Embassy Cultural Centre booth featured paintings, songs, and Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poem Hum Dekhenge.
The organisers of the art fair stopped the performance and cordoned off the booth after the arrival of police officials, The Quint reported.
Chandola said that artwork was not about one particular protest but about the women of the country. “We had together created a space to celebrate women,” she added. “It was purely in solidarity and celebration of the resilience and strength of the women in India. This was in no way political. We don’t know what the problem was. The audience was very receptive. But, someone complained.”
Another participating artist Indranil Roy said the incident was “very unfortunate”. He alleged that the organisers behaved unprofessionally and blew the matter out of proportion. “Police did apologise for the misunderstanding and fair’s management came charging on us without even trusting the artists’ works or the curator,” he added.
Roy, who was singing Hum Dekhenge at the time of the disruption, said bystanders made racist statements about the Urdu calligraphy on the posters and the images of women in hijab in the paintings. “Without even knowing anything or the Urdu language which no one could read, everything was stopped,” Roy added.
Myna Mukherjee, the curator for the exhibition that was cordoned off, said they wanted to focus on art and how it empowers women. “We expected to have some space to explain ourselves,” she told The Quint. “But the Urdu calligraphy and rising Islamophobia just ensured we couldn’t. India Art Fair organisers don’t seem to have a spine whatsoever. Police were more fair to us than the organiser folks. We deferred to the fair’s rules. There was no sloganeering. We talked of unity, resurgence and solidarity, and women’s leadership.”
The fair’s organisers claimed that they embraced the freedom of expression, but ensuring the safety and security of their visitors was paramount. They claimed the exhibitors of the booth did not share details of all the activities that were to take place during the course of the four-day art event.
“We were not informed about the activities at the booth,” the organisers said in a statement. “In fact, post the incident, the fair director spoke with the Italian Ambassador in New Delhi, who confirmed that they too had not informed of the activities taking place in their booth. The organisers of the India Art Fair only became aware of the activities when the police arrived. They informed us that they had received a complaint.”
They added that artists are “conscience keepers of a society” and this was demonstrated through the strong line-up in the event.
The art fair is India’s biggest exhibition of contemporary and modern South Asian art. This was the 12th edition of the India Art Fair.