A performative art piece on the “strength of Indian women” at the India Art Fair in New Delhi was interrupted on Sunday after police arrived at the venue following a complaint that some paintings against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act were being exhibited.
"We received a PCR call that some paintings depicting the CAA were being exhibited at the fair. A police team was sent to check it, but no such painting was exhibited,” a senior police official said.
Curated by artist Myna Mukherjee, the art at the Italian Embassy Cultural Centre booth featured paintings as well as songs including Faiz Ahmad Faiz's “Hum Dekhenge”, and poetry recitations talking about the love, beauty, tenderness and the strength of women across the country, said Gargi Chandola, a participating artist.
“The artwork was not about any one particular protest or issue. It is about women of India. We had together created a space to celebrate women. It was purely in solidarity and celebration of the resilience and strength of the women in India.
“This was in no way political. We don't know what the problem was. The audience was very receptive. But, someone complained,” Chandola said.
Another participating artist Indranil Roy said the incident was “very unfortunate”, and alleged that the fair's organisers behaved “unprofessionally”.
“The India Art Fair management behaved very unprofessionally and made the matter out of proportion. Police did apologise for the misunderstanding and fair's management came charging on us without even trusting the artists works or the curator. That's very unfortunate
“Without even knowing anything or the Urdu language which no one could read, everything was stopped,” he said.
The fair's organisers said that while they “embrace the freedom of expression”, ensuring safety and security of their visitors was “paramount”.
They said exhibitors were expected to share "details of the all activities” to take place at their booths during the course of the four day art event, which was not done for the performance in question.
“We were informed about an incident that occurred at the booth of the Italian Embassy Cultural Centre where a performance was on going. Our contract with the Italian Embassy Cultural Centre, consistent with others, required them to share with us the details of all activities which were to take place at their booth over the course of four days of India Art Fair.
"We were not informed about the activities at the booth. In fact, post the incident, the fair director spoke with the Italian Ambassador in New Delhi who confirmed that they too had not informed of the activities taking place in their booth,” the fair organisers said in a statement.
They said they found out about the commotion only after the police arrived and then followed it up with the Italian Embassy Culture Centre.
"The organisers of the India Art Fair only became aware of the activities when the police arrived. They informed us that they had received a complaint.
In fact, post the incident, the fair's director spoke with the Italian Ambassador in New Delhi who confirmed that they too had not been informed of the activities taking place in their booth.
"India Art Fair embraces freedom of expression and believes individuals have the right to express their opinions in their own way. Artists are conscience keepers of a society and we place their voice at the centre of our programme.
"This was demonstrated through the strong line-up of artists, art and programming throughout the Fair. As event organisers, ensuring the safety and security of all our visitors is paramount. Each year, the fair hosts a large number of visitors, including young children and the elderly, many of whom were onsite when the incident took place,” they said.