India Insight

Delhi Art Gallery’s nude portrait exhibition draws protesters

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.

Delhi judge backs MF Husain, says “ignorant people vandalise art”

The Delhi High Court issued a strong judgement on Thursday in support of one of India’s leading painters MF Husain, who has been forced into exile after a painting of Mother India as a naked woman was accused of hurting religious sentiments.

M.F. Husain and TabuJustice Sanjay Kishan Kaul made no bones about how he felt about the issue.

“It is most unfortunate that India’s new ‘puritanism’ is being carried out in the name of cultural purity and ignorant people vandalise art,” the Times of India quoted him as saying.

The high court found nothing wrong in Husain’s work and said art, both ancient and modern, had always used nudity.

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