Artists’ fraternity split wide open over art show in IsraelBy Saumit Singh
The Mumbai Mirror
An upcoming show in Tel Aviv, billed as the first major Indian art exhibit in Israel, has assumed shades a full-blown controversy that has split the artist fraternity.
Some Indian artists, who are sympathetic towards the cause of Palestine, have decided to skip the event and have called for a “cultural boycott of Israel”. Other invitees, however, have criticised this approach, saying art should not be mixed with politics.
The person leading the call for a boycott of the event, Deconstructing India, is 55-year-old Pushpamala N. She is among the 20-odd art figures invited to participate in the show, which will be held at the newly constructed Amir Wing of the Tel Aviv Museum in April 2012.
Pushpamala, a Bangalore-based photo artist, first dashed off a mail to the show’s curator, Tami Katz-Freiman, declining the invite. She then launched a signature campaign to show support for a Palestinian civil society movement, which calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with the international law and respects Palestinian rights.
English novelist and art critic John Berger and author-activist Arundhati Roy are among the world-renowned names backing the call for a cultural boycott.
In her mail, which has been widely circulated among Indian artists and galleries, Pushpmala has highlighted the efforts of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). “If we exhibit in this show we will be legitimising the racist and apartheid policies of the Israeli Government,” she has stated.
A section of Indian artists, including Tushar Joag, holds a similar view. “We are in the process of collecting signatures. I already have the backing of five participating artists and some more have expressed solidarity. Some artists are travelling, so I am just waiting to get a revert from them. I plan to issue a press statement in a few days,” Pushpamala told Mumbai Mirror.
Art critic Girish Shahane and senior artist Laxman Shreshta, however, are opposed to such an approach.
“If we start boycotting museum shows because of bad things governments are doing, where will it end? Why should Indian artists exhibit in China, when the regime there has been responsible for horrendous massacres and continues to deny basic freedom of expression to its citizens?” Girish has stated. “Associating art institutions and centres of learning, even state-funded ones, so closely with state policy is a silly mistake in my opinion, and tokenism of the worst kind as well.”
Shreshta said that there was no need to mix politics with arts. “It’s like the case of the rebel without a cause. I would not support Pushpamala at all. If India artists have been invited for this interesting exhibition, they should go there and show the world what they are doing,” he said.
Atul Dodiya made a similar point. “Any country which commits atrocities should be roundly condemned. But while even artists have political viewpoints, art itself cannot be a political tool. It is a means to create bonds, not break them. That is why even with Pakistan, we continue to maintain cultural relations. So why not Israel?”
Sudarshan Shetty, who has been invited to the show in Tel Aviv, feels boycotting the event would not serve any purpose. “I don’t have any fresh work to show there, so the curator is arranging for some earlier works of mine from private collectors. I will be participating, though I am still to figure whether others plan to,” he said. “I don’t think boycotting the show is a solution. You can instead use that opportunity to express your view. There are problems in almost every country, including India – so should we completely stop exhibiting our art?”
Other invitees are Ravi Agarwal, Atul Bhalla, Anita Dube, Shilpa Gupta, Subodh Gupta, Ranbir Kaleka, Jitish Kallat, Riyas Komu, TV Santhosh, Hema Upadhyay and Lochan Upadhyay. They may be forced to take a stand over the issue as the entire list of participants has been made public.
Uddari fully supports the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), and the Indian artists who are boycotting the Tel Aviv art show in 2012.