Just a few days ago, on 8 February, veteran actor-director Amol Palekar had launched a subtle yet scathing attack on the National Gallery of Modern Arts’ branches in Bombay and Bangalore for impinging upon artistic freedom.
Now, in what Palekar claims as a partial victory, the Ministry of Culture has issued a clarification stating that , “The advisory committees of NGMA Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi have not been dissolved. Their terms have ended recently (Mumbai and Bengaluru committee terms ended on November 15, 2018, and of Delhi on January 17, 2019). The committees are in the process of being reconstituted.” Palekar had critically questioned the abrupt dissolution of the committees, and stated that it was an attack on artistic freedom.
Palekar was speaking at an event, organised by the Bodhana Arts and Research Foundation, to inaugurate an exhibition of the works of the artist Prabhakar Barwe.
The Barwe exhibition, Palekar said, “will be the last show that is decided by the advisory committee of local artists and not by some bureaucrat or agent of the government with an agenda of either moral policing or proliferation of certain art commensurate with an ideological incline. As of November 13, 2018, the artists’ advisory committees operating at both regional centres, in Mumbai and Bangalore, have been abolished.”
He added that he was in the process of “officially inquiring about the details so as to verify the hearsay”.
Suhas Bahulkar, chairman of the previous advisory committee in Mumbai, said he was told in informal conversations with NGMA’s officials that the committee would not be reconstituted. Nothing was communicated to him officially, though, he added.
At the the inaugural event of the exhibition named ‘Inside the Empty Box’, organised in the memory of acclaimed artist Prabhakar Barwe, Palekar, in a prepared speech, spoke of the “loss of independence” in the art gallery’s ways of functioning. He had made several strong and disapproving observation observations about the dissolution of the committee that had in the past taken decisions about the daily operations of the gallery and chosen work that could be exhibited.
Anita Rupavataram, an Indian Revenue Service officer and director of NGMA Mumbai, who had rudely interrupted Palekar in the middle of his speech, insisting he stick to Barve’s work and not criticize NGMA’s policies, however,denied this charge. “The term of the outgoing Advisory Committee of NGMA Mumbai has expired on 15.11.2018 and hence it is no longer in existence,” she said in an email. “The new Advisory Committee is likely to be constituted in the near future. Hence, it is incorrect to say that the Advisory Committee has been abolished.”
At a press conference in Pune on Sunday, Palekar and his better- half award-winning screenwriter Sandhya Gokhale had said that Jesal Thacker, the curator of the programme had stated she had received clear instructions from the NGMA director that nothing should be spoken against the government during the event.
“I am very glad that they have accepted the issues raised in my speech. I was only demanding a fair and transparent process of decision making,” Palekar told National Herald.
Rupavataram’s heckling of Palekar during his speech had raised the hackles of those who are passionate about freedom of expression, and caused them to express misgivings about her conduct and question the regime of censorship which seems to have been unleashed since Narendra Modi stormed to power in India.