Delhi Art Gallery’s nude portrait exhibition draws protesters

February 5, 2013

Modern Indian artists have celebrated the body on the canvas for more than a hundred years. Amrita Sher-Gil, known as India’s Frida Kahlo, may have been the earliest Indian artist in modern times to paint nudes, including a self-portrait. The Delhi Art Gallery’s latest show – “The Naked and the Nude” – presents a retrospective journey of the representation of the body in modern Indian art, mostly from the dawn of the 20th century to the present.

It’s also generating anger among groups that object to art involving nudes. When I visited the gallery, the front office operator received a call from a regional political group, demanding that the show be closed. That is not an option, said Kishore Singh, project editor and head of exhibition and publication at the Delhi Art Gallery. “We cannot and will not take seriously people’s right to be offended, and demand that we take something down.”

On Monday, the show was briefly shut down after women from the right-wing group Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) protested at the venue. Meanwhile, gallery owner Ashish Anand said about 200 to 300 people plan to protest on Wednesday. (A similar fracas just happened in Bangalore.)

“We have nothing against them protesting as long as it is non-violent, non-threatening,” he said. “We’re just showing Indian modern art that has been explored by the great masters … over the last hundred years. If it’s something that was made 50 or 100 years ago, (and) it wasn’t objectionable (at) that time, why are they objecting now?”

The exhibition will continue, the gallery said.

Tucked in a narrow gully in Delhi’s crowded, posh Hauz Khaz Village, the exhibition displays some 250 artworks of 60 featured artists, including some of India’s modernist masters – M.F. Husain and F.N. Souza, founder of the pioneering Progressive Artists’ Group.

Although the exhibition has works of several other artists on display who have painted the body – K. H. Ara, K. Laxma Goud, Avinash Chandra and P. T. Reddy, to name a few – Anjolie Ela Menon and Sher-Gil were conspicuous by their absence.

“I would so dearly love you to get me an Anjolie Ela Menon!” came the prompt reply from Singh. “We only display owned work and she (Menon) is not willing to sell the works to us.”

“Amrita Sher-gils are impossible to get hold of,” he added.

The exhibition is scheduled to remain on display until March 15, 2013. The gallery is closed on Sundays.


(M. F. Husain, Rani, 1962)


(Raja Ravi Verma, Untitled)


Husain is abstract and subtle, and lets the viewer’s imagination take its course. Juxtapose this with Raja Ravi Verma’s oil paintings, which evoke a fleshy sensuousness – his women curvaceous, beautiful, sari-clad, sometimes only partially.


(P. T. Reddy, Reclining Nude, 1942)

(Jamini Roy, Untitled)

The poignant colour dynamics in Roy and Reddy accentuate the melancholy of the women and the eroticism in their languorous stances, as well as their inertia. They seemingly avert their gaze from the artist. 

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