NGMA Backs Down After Amol Palekar Calls Out Government Interference in Art Exhibits

The ministry of culture now claims that the Mumbai and Bengaluru committees, whose terms ended recently, "are in the process of being reconstituted".

Mumbai: Days after noted actor Amol Palekar took a public stand against the ministry of culture for scrapping the local artists’ committee at the gallery’s centre in Mumbai and Bangalore, the ministry has issued a clarification claiming the advisory committee has not been dissolved.

The clarification comes three days after Palekar was interrupted and asked to stop his speech at a National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) event on February 8.

In its statement, the ministry has claimed that, “The advisory committees of NGMA Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi have not been dissolved. Their terms have ended recently (Mumbai and Bengaluru committee terms ended on November 15, 2018, and of Delhi on January 17, 2019). The committees are in the process of being reconstituted.”

But in a clear indication that the controversy triggered by Palekar’s comments had prompted a rethink, the ministry said that the recommendations of the previous advisory committees will be “honoured” and “the exhibitions of artists will be held as proposed”. The new advisory committee will take a decision relating to future exhibitions, the ministry added.

On February 8, at the inaugural event of the exhibition named ‘Inside the Empty Box’, organised in the memory of the renowned artist Prabhakar Barwe, Palekar, in prepared remarks, had spoken of the “loss of independence” in the art gallery’s ways of functioning. He had made several critical observations of the dissolution of the committee that had in the past taken decisions about the daily operations of the gallery and chosen work that could be exhibited.

Full Text: Amol Palekar’s Speech Criticising ‘Loss of Independence’ in Art

But since the ministry of culture dissolved the committee and decided to take control over the gallery’s activities, Palekar claimed, “Many of you may not know that this retrospective (the exhibition) will be the last show that is decided by the advisory committee of local artists and not by some bureaucrat or an agent of the government with an agenda of either moral policing or proliferation of certain art commensurate with an ideological incline. As of November 13, 2018, the artists’ advisory committees operating at both regional centres i.e. at Mumbai and Bangalore have been abolished, is what I have learned.”

This, the ministry has claimed is not true. Speaking to ANI, the gallery’s director general Adwaita Gadanayak has claimed that the advisory committee of NGMA Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru have not been dissolved. “Their terms have ended recently. The committees are in the process of being reconstituted,” Gadanayak has told ANI.

No explanation has been offered about the time lag between the “end” of the earlier committee’s tenure and its reconstitution.

Palekar had also raised the concerns of other artists about the reduced space within the gallery for display of their work. NGMA had earlier decided to make only a part of its otherwise massive gallery space for artists to display their work. NGMA has now claimed that it is “deliberating on suggestions received from artists, and a final decision will be taken shortly in consultation with all stakeholders.”

Watch: NGMA Director Interrupts Amol Palekar When Art Speech Took Critical Turn

On February 8, when Palekar was interrupted several times from delivering his speech, he had confronted the organisers and said they were “applying censorship” on his free expression. He had also invoked the recent incident where writer Nayantara Sahgal was invited to speak at the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, a literary meet in Yavatmal, but her invitation was withdrawn at the last minute.

Palekar, in his speech, said, “Recently, Nayantara Sehgal was invited to speak at an event and her invitation was withdrawn at the last minute since her speech was slightly critical of the current situation, we are living in. Are you trying to create a similar situation by stopping me from speaking here? If you don’t want me to speak, I won’t speak.”

Reacting to the ministry’s clarification, Palekar’s wife Sandhya Gokhale told The Wire that they stand vindicated. “He (Palekar) was raising a pertinent issue and the statement issued by the ministry only makes it clear that they were up to something and are now held accountable. As long as the gallery is kept away from the political and bureaucratic intrusions and is allowed to function smoothly, we are glad,” Gokhale said.

Join The Discussion