Disgusted with Kerala's labour unions, US artist destroys his creations

  • Ramesh Babu, Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
  • Updated: Apr 05, 2015 18:23 IST

An American artist who participated in a recent art festival in Kochi destroyed some of his terracotta creations after labourers affiliated to local trade unions demanded exorbitant fees to load his works onto a truck.

Waswo X Waswo said the only way he could get a negotiation started was by threatening to destroy his works after he was asked to pay Rs 10,000 to move six boxes to a distance of mere 10 feet -- from the festival venue to a waiting truck.

Waswo, a participant in the second edition of the Kochi-Muzaris biennale that saw the participation of 30 countries over 108 days, has uploaded on YouTube a 1.2-minute video that shows the artist throwing to the ground some terracotta sculptures.

The incident, which once again puts the spotlight on Kerala's militant trade unionism, took place on March 31 -- two days after the biennale ended. The video was uploaded on YouTube on April 2.

"This is a testament to the unions in Kerala... and how they destroy business in the state," he said, in a scathing attack on the state's trade unions that have of late interrupted the ongoing work of the Kochi Metro over payment issues.

"The unions function as mob, surrounding the truck and refusing anyone to load or unload until their demands are met… asking as much as Rs 60,000 to 80,000. Intimidation and threats of damage to the property are employed," he said in the video.

Waswo was planning to take his installation to his studio in Udaipur. An avid lover of India, he settled in Rajasthan in 2001, and regularly blogs on Indian etchings, lithograph, woodcuts and screen prints. Wasow is known for his sepia-toned photographs and hand-coloured portraits.

Wasow said he belonged to a family that supported the labour movement, but he could not support the 'outrageous act' of Kerala's trade unions.

"The biennale was a special target for the unions, who demanded 20 times the regular rates. What is this exploitation of art? And how does the media feed a notion that artists make crores of rupees with each artwork they produce?" he asked.

Officials said Waswo's installations were exhibited at a show connected with the biennale. He had about 30 boxes to be loaded onto a truck and unions demanded about Rs 10,000 for six boxes. They later scaled down their demand to Rs 5,000 every six boxes, officials said.

Artist Subodh Kerkar, who displayed his work "Janela: Migrating Forms and Migrating Gods" at the same venue, also claimed to have witnessed a similar experience.

As the issue snowballed into a major controversy, both the CITU -- CPI(M)'s trade wing -- and the Congress-controlled INTUC denied involvement of their cadre.

CPI(M) politburo member MA Baby criticised trade unions for taking such a posture towards an artist. Kochi mayor Tony Chammny said he would bring the incident to the government's notice.

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