14 May, 2007

Protest against the arrest of an art student and suspension of the dean of M S Univ - Monday, 14th May

By now, you would have read, heard or seen the news of the arrest of a student, Chandra Mohan, and the suspension of the dean of Maharaja Sayajirao University's Fine Arts faculty in Baroda, Prof. Shivaji Panikker. (For those who haven't, please catch up through the press links below.)

A simultaneous all-India public protest will take place on 14th May, at 6 p.m.

The Mumbai protest wil be in front of Jehangir Art Gallery.

Those attending are requested to wear black and/or white.

For details of other protests, please see http://fineartsfacultymsu.blogspot.com/

Below these links, please read:
Hindu Sacred Art Offends Self-appointed Custodians of Hindu Culture, By Ranjit Hoskote, and an open letter from Gulammohammed Sheikh.

News links:


Hindu Sacred Art Offends Self-appointed Custodians of Hindu Culture
by Ranjit Hoskote

In a grimly ironic turn of events following the 9 May arrest, without a proper warrant, of Chandramohan, a final-year fine arts student at the M S University, Baroda, the self-appointed custodians of Hindu culture have now demanded the closure of an exhibition showing the vital role of the erotic in Hindu sacred art.

Earlier today, 11 May, students of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the M S University put up an exhibition of reproductions of images drawn from across 2500 years of Indian art. In a silent protest against the brutality with which their fellow student has been treated for exhibiting works that BJP and VHP activists claim are offensive and obscene, the students put up pictures of the Gudimallam Shiva, perhaps the earliest known Shiva image, which combines the lingam with an anthropomorphic form; a Kushan mukha-linga or masked lingam; Lajja-gouris from Ellora and Orissa, resplendent in their fecund nakedness; erotic statuary from Modhera, Konark and Khajuraho; as well as Raga-mala paintings from Rajasthan. All these images, among the finest produced through the centuries in the subcontinent, celebrate the sensuous and the passionate dimensions of existence – which, in the Hindu world-view, are inseparably twinned with the austere and the contemplative.

This treasure of Hindu sacred art did not win the favour of the establishment. The Pro Vice Chancellor issued a verbal request that the exhibition be closed, which the Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty, Dr Shivaji Panikkar, ignored. A written order followed, and was similarly ignored. The Pro Vice Chancellor then arrived at the venue, accompanied by some members of the Syndicate of the University. They requested Dr Panikkar to close down the exhibition, then ordered him to do so. When it became clear that the Dean would not bend to their will, they had the exhibition locked.

It appears that the champions of a resurgent Hindu identity are acutely embarrassed by the presence of the erotic at the centre of Hindu sacred art. As they may well be, for the roots of Hindutva do not lie in Hinduism. Rather, they lie in a crude mixture of German romanticism, Victorian puritanism and Nazi methodology.

What happens next? Will the champions of Hindutva go around the country destroying temple murals, breaking down monuments, and burning manuscripts and folios?


Open Letter from Gulammohammed Sheikh

Dear friends

You must have known through media reports that Chandra Mohan, a student from the Department of Graphics at the Fine Arts College in Baroda has been arrested on 9th of May 2007 for making an allegedly controversial painting depicting nude figures with some religious motifs. The arrest followed the storming of the university premises by a group of outsiders. The work in question was part of a display in the college premises for assessment by a team of examiners for a Master's degree in Fine Arts. Charged with sections 153 and 114 as well as sections 295 A and 295 B, he has been denied bail and is presently in Central Jail, Baroda.

In a civilized society any dispute on a controversial depiction or content of a work of art can be dealt with through dialogue and consultation with experts in the field rather than left to self-appointed moral police employing coersive means. In the present case, the outsiders taking law into their hands barged into the university campus without prior permission, did not consult or inform the Dean of the Faculty before disrupting the annual examinations in progress. The reports are that they returned again to abuse the Dean and threatened him with dire consequences.

Such an instance of assault on a student by outsiders in the university premises is unprecedented in the history of the Faculty of Fine Arts and must be condemned in no uncertain terms. The Fine Arts College known nationally and internationally for upholding the highest standards of creative and critical practice has also earned reputation for its firm commitment to the freedom of expression. The former authorities of the university like Smt. Hansa Mehta, the very first Vice Chancellor in the fifties up to Prof. Bhikhu Parekh in the eighties have stood by the Faculty and its ideals. The present assault seems to strike at the very ideals on which it was built by pioneering artist-academics and supported by enlightened university authorities. The present administration of the university has not initiated any action against the trespassers or applied for bail for the victimized student. The students and staff of the Fine Arts College have organized a dharna and the Acting Dean, Prof. Shivaji Panikker has planned to undertake a hunger strike in the College premises against the assault on the student and callous attitude of the university authorities. (Latest report is that the Department of Art History has been sealed and Prof Panikker has been suspended by the university authorities). A solidarity demonstration of artists, intellectuals and cultural workers from all over India is called on 14th of May at the Fine Arts College premises beginning 2 pm with an appeal to all concerned to gather there to lend their support. (Contact details below*).

As an alumnus and former teacher of the Faculty of Fine Arts, I fear these developments may imperil the working of an institution which in many ways has formed our lives; and is indeed an integral part of what we are today. I hope all other alumni and teachers as well as concerned artists and intellectuals of the country will come forward to protect it in its moment of crisis when the values it stands for are threatened.

Gulammohammed Sheikh
11th May, 2007

Faculty of Fine Arts (or Fine Arts College),
Pushpabug, University Road, Vadodara (Baroda) 390002

2 p.m. onwards

Contact emails: Shivaji Panikker: shivji dot panikkar at gmail dot com
Deeptha Achar : deeptha dot achar at gmail dot com

Simultaneous all-India public protest (More at Indian Art News)

Date and time for all: 14th May, 6p.m .

New Delhi - Rabindra Bhavan
Mumbai - Jehangir Gallery
Vishakhapatinam - Faculty of Fine Arts, Andhra University
Cochin - Kashi Art Café
Hyderabad - Fine Arts, S N School, University of Hyderabad
Bangalore - M G Road, opposite Gandhi statue
Santiniketan - Kala Bhavan
Guwahati - Press Club

Those attending are requested to wear black and/or white.

Protest meeting on the lawns of Rabindra Bhavan, Mandi House, New Delhi on Monday, 14th May, at 6 pm.

8, Vithalbhai Patel House,
Rafi Marg,New Delhi-110001
Telephone- 23711276/ 23351424
Artists Alert!
Dear Friends,
Even as we were holding a press conference in solidarity with M.F. Husain at the Press Club in Delhi on Tuesday, 9 May, another assault on artistic freedom took place in Baroda. A BJP leader, accompanied by the local police, entered the Faculty of Fine Arts at MS University, and attacked the work of an art student, Chandramohan, exhibited as part of the internal review process of the university. Chandramohan was arrested and is yet to be granted bail. Further, on 11 May, the university authorities closed down an exhibition of classical Indian art put up by the students and suspended the acting Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Professor Shivaji Panikkar.
We are holding a large protest meeting on the lawns of Rabindra Bhavan, Mandi House, New Delhi on Monday, 14th May, at 6 pm.
We urge the leaders of all secular political parties to send their representatives/MPs to the protest meeting.
Please join us and extend your solidarity.
Ram Rahman, Vivan Sundaram


Dear Friends

One has watched with anger and frustration as attacks on freedom of expression by conservative pressure groups as well as government officials have multiplied relentlessly in recent years. While the artist M.F Hussain has been subjected to a sustained hate campaign for almost a decade, because of which he now lives in exile, instances of social censorship by organizations established for the purpose of "regulating morals" have become commonplace

By now everyone is familiar with what has happened at the M.S University Baroda over the last few days. Prof Shivaji Panikkar, acting Dean and head of Art History and Aesthetics has been suspended for coming out in support of a student Chandra Mohan whose art work had been deemed "obscene" by right wing hoodlums (VHP activists to be precise) leading to the students arrest on Wednesday, 9th May 2007. This arrest was made during the annual exhibition of the art department where the student's work was on display. The student continues to remain in prison with several trumped up charges slapped against him.

The suspension was the result of an exhibition mounted by the students of the Art History department in support of Chandra Mohan that drew attention to the long tradition of erotica in Indian art. Asked by University authorities to shut down the exhibition, Prof Shivaji Panikker rightly refused to give into the order of the powers that be who were obviously not equipped with any memory of their civilization's cultural expressions and their contexts, and had no concept of the larger shape of their society along with its long tradition of heresy and dissent.

Any civil society must give space for discussion, debate and dissent, where we can be united as much by our agreements as by our disagreements. Therefore it is important that we speak up against such attempts to bowdlerize art and deny people their right to freedom of expression in an atmosphere of tolerance.

The recent events at MSU are a part of a sustained campaign by extremist elements, to gain a stranglehold over educational institutions through various tactics of intimidation in order to snuff out all but their own narrow viewpoint.

Do join the artists community on - Monday 14th May , 6.00pm at Rabindra Bhavan Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi, to express your solidarity for these latest victims of "moral policing". Do inform as many people as possible about this gross act and ask them to join us

Best Wishes

Shukla Sawant

Associate Professor

School of Arts and Aesthetics

Jawaharlal Nehru University


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