In yet another example of art censorship, in climates of extremism and right wing fundamentalism, queer artist Balbir Krishan’s solo exhibition “My Bed of Roses,” hosted by the Muse Art Gallery at the Hotel Marriot in Hyderabad, was brought down on December 1. It was barely one day after its successful opening on November 30 that the show was taken down.   On behalf of the artist Balbir Krishan, Engendered, The Transnational Arts and Human Rights organization whose Delhi Chapter Gallery Engendered SPACE represents the artist, expresses outrage and strongly condemns this action.   “This is a setback for me professionally, financially, and emotionally. I feel brutalized all over again, and it brings back memories of when my artwork was vandalized and I was physically attacked at my second solo exhibition at Lalit Kala Akademi in Delhi, in January of 2012,” says Krishan. “I spent the last two years trying to build confidence and to push myself artistically. Today I feel like I am back to square one. I know I will bounce back, but it will take some time. I will stand tall and proud, as I always have, and continue forward with my artwork, and in my beliefs in artistic freedom of expression, no matter what.” He adds, “What hurt me most, perhaps, was that I was not even consulted before the show was taken down. The organizers alluded to some potential threat and the public was informed via an announcement on Facebook, but not me personally. Their claim was that they were doing it to avoid bad publicity, but what can be worse than getting canceled?” he reasons. “This is censorship and cowardice.”   Krishan is an artist who comes from a small town in Bijrol district in Uttar Pradesh. The work made for this solo includes over 45 paintings that were painstakingly created over a period of two years. Though Balbir’s art is bold and transgresses several constraints of the conservative and oppressive society, his paintings is aesthetic and neither offensive nor vulgar. In fact Krishan has been critically acclaimed in the group shows that he has been part of, and has received global and national fame. His work has been featured alongside Bhupen Khakhar’s in the Indian Literature Sahitya Akademi’s Bi-Monthly Journal.   “Art is a reflection of a civil society and when artists and their works are attacked it indicates we live in uncivil times,” says Myna Mukherjee, director and curator of Engendered. “While what happened was because of external pressure it is with great dismay and depression that we note that the gallery did not make an effort to withstand this pressure and stand in solidarity with the artist,” she adds. It is important for curators and galleries to have conviction when it comes to withstanding such pressure and censorship. “This constant refrain that work of this nature is not part of Indian culture is something we refute very strongly. India has a long history of fluid and gender progressive culture evidence of which exists in literature, the classical arts mythology, and even religion,” she says. “It is only in contemporary times that this rightwing appropriation of culture invisibilizes India’s long history of tolerance, plurality and fluidity when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality,” says Mukherjee. “We have to make stronger efforts to re-appropriate culture and history, and resist this oppressive fundamentalism,” she adds.   In the lead up to the elections this issue of censorship, homophobia and Balbir’s battle for freedom of artistic expression should be given paramount importance as they intersect with issues of widespread violence, patriarchy and intolerance against women, minorities, and other disenfranchised communities.  

to comment