India

Watch: Amol Palekar’s speech in Mumbai cut off by NGMA officials for being critical of the govt

Actor-director Amol Palekar was repeatedly interrupted during his speech by NGMA officials, after he criticised the Ministry of Culture and mentioned a recent controversy involving Nayantara Sahgal

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NH Web Desk

Veteran actor-director Amol Palekar was repeatedly interrupted during his speech by some members of the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) here Friday evening.

Palekar was speaking at the opening of an exhibition "Inside The Empty Box" in the memory of artist Prabhakar Barwe.

A video available on social media showed Palekar criticising the Ministry of Culture for reportedly scrapping the advisory committees at the gallery's Mumbai and Bengaluru centres.

Referring to these reports, Palekar said, "Many of you may not know that this retrospective will be the last show decided by the advisory committee of local artists and not by some bureaucrat or an 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 artistes' advisory committees at both regional centres Mumbai and Bangalore -- have been abolished, is what I have learnt," he said.

He added that he was "in the process of verifying the hearsay".

At this point, an NGMA member on the stage interrupted, saying that Palekar should talk about the event.

To which, Palekar responded, "I am going to talk about the same. Are you you applying censorship to that?"

He then said that as per his information, after the abolition of local artists' committee, decisions as to whose work should be exhibited would be taken from Delhi by the Ministry of Culture.

He was again interrupted by a woman, who said, "This is not needed at the moment, sorry....The function is about Prabhakar Barwe, please stick to that."

However, Palekar refused to stop, and went on to mention that writer Nayantara Sahgal was invited to speak at the Marathi literary convention recently but at the last minute the invitation was withdrawn because what she was going to say "was slightly critical of the situation around us."

"Are we creating the same situation here?" he asked.

The text of Palekar’s speech

Let me directly begin by talking about ‘THE MAN WHO HID THE AXIS’ as I will describe the legend Prabhakar Barve!

He breaks away from the recognisable world in terms of its space yet uses recognizable forms; there is an attempt to distort those recognizable forms, yet the Gestalt is imbibed therein; there is a rhythm set in through the fragments which are soaked in the content. The entire journey is towards abstraction; the pursuit is to transcend the constraints of a rational mind, yet he anchors us with realistic remnants of our visual world. A suggestive yet an interrogative construct! There is a lot not revealed in between and through what is open to view! Still, that what is not expressed does not reflect the world of dreams or illusions, it urges me to seek something which is lingering right there.

I have always felt a connect with his inner world through those surrealist twists. As I keep absorbing the revealed, I get engaged in an ongoing urge to hold on to an axis which is absent therein. Though I’m mostly fascinated with his “Magritte stage” of work, the connect with his inner imagery is a common experience I have felt through all his other stages.

Somehow whenever I met Barve, I tried to probe an answer to my question, ‘Where has he hidden the axis?’

When I first met him I had not seen much of his work. That was in 1973… after the performance of Gochee at Sarayu and Vinodbahi Doshi’s residence. I, as a director of the play was exhilarated to have Jasraj, Gaitonde, Barve, Prafulla, Jitendra Abhisheki and many others in the audience. My attempts to explore spaces beyond the proscenium arch were applauded by all. Despite the intoxication during “the fourth act” as we called that session of drinks & discussions, I distinctly remember the aesthetic dissection of my play. Prafulla and Abhisheki praised the fresh approach to dhwani/sound in the compact space. Gaitonde liked the surrealist treatment given to the script. And Barve talked about the interplay of time and space in my production. He was fascinated with the way the play merged the banality of real life with the euphoria of existential being. “I was reminded of Dali’s ‘Melting Time’ at various moments in Gochee.” I have never forgotten this line of Barve! Barve and Gaitonde both congratulated me for keeping the painter in me alive and active. I was overwhelmed to witness the otherwise known-to-be reticent Barve and Gaitonde talking so much about my work.

Today is a great occasion of celebration for two reasons. Barve’s retrospective of his legendary meta-fictional work… first time after his demise, almost after 24 years, is historic in itself! Thank you so much Jesal for curating this grand event and giving me the opportunity to inaugurate the same. Thank you NGMA for holding this splendid exhibition and giving the permission to use all the spaces spread over the three floors of your magnificent vaastu.

You must be wondering as to why I’m specifically thanking NGMA for this retrospective. What is so special in a national gallery offering its space to a highly celebrated artist’s work? This brings me to my second reason as to why this celebration is historic! As I made a reference of Magritte earlier, let me cite two of his quotes. “Visible things always hide other visible things. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” Also Magritte had once said, “We must not fear daylight just because it almost always illuminates a miserable world.”

Here I am referring to the visible that is present and the visible that is hidden underneath! Many of you may not know that this retrospective will be the last show that is decided by the advisory committee of local artists and not by some bureaucrat or an 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 artistes’ advisory committees operating at both regional centers i.e. at Mumbai and Bangalore have been abolished, is what I have learnt! I am in the process of officially inquiring about the details so as to verify the hearsay. Till now, which exhibition will be held at which space of the 2 NGMA branches, namely at Mumbai and Bangalore, was decided by the local artists’ advisory committee. Each committee operated for 3 years.

At the end of its tenure, the advisory committee was reconvened with new members. There was a direct participation of the ‘local’ artistes in deciding the theme/content of the exhibition, whose work will be displayed, etc. I have also learnt that as of November 13, 2018, all these decisions would be taken from Delhi by the Ministry of Culture. Accordingly at present, no new committee has been convened after the expiry of the old committee’s tenure that ended on 25th October 2018.

In 2017, we were happy to hear about the plan to open new NGMA branches at Kolkata and in the North East; news of the expansion of this Mumbai venue was also heartening.

However on 13th November, 2018, another disastrous decision was apparently taken namely, ‘all future exhibitions of artworks not from NGMA’s own collection, would be allotted only 1/6th of the area in NGMA Mumbai restricting those only to the Dome area.’ Does that mean that the remaining area will never exhibit new artistes’ works or veteran artistes’ new works beyond NGMA’s own collection?

Commensurate with this new policy, the proposed retrospectives of Mehli Gobhai and Sudhir Patwardhan scheduled respectively in March-April and December 2019, were cancelled. We, therefore, ought to be grateful to the Almighty Ministry for not cancelling this retrospective as well. The sad fact is that we will be deprived of seeing 300 or more fascinating works of Mehli Gobhai who is no more with us! What a great tribute it could have been to the great Master! Sudhir, I am sorry, no matter how great an artist you are, your work and ideology is not liked nor approved by us!

Why are these unilateral decisions taken? What is the real intention behind such restrictions? Isn’t this another level of censorship on artistic freedom? Isn’t this yet another assault on the federal structure of this plural nation? The policy of diffusion and abortion of eclectic voices and artistic expression has muzzled yet another institution!

This control over the NGMA which is the sacrosanct venue for artistic expression and viewing of diverse art, is the recent most casualty in this ‘war against humanities’ as someone recently put it! I am truly disturbed… where is it going to stop? This sea of freedom is receding day by day, gradually but incessantly… why are we silent about this?? What is more upsetting is that those privy to such unilateral orders did not speak out, protest or even question it!

What would Barve have done in this atmosphere? I am sure he would have shown us the hidden visible through the visible present. Sorry Jasel if I have violated the expected decorum of celebrations or inaugurations – but I believe in speaking out, hence this lingering sad note!

(with PTI inputs)

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