With four hours left for his solo exhibition to conclude, Delhi-based artist Nitai Das chose to wrap up early, a day after five of his canvases were withdrawn from Jehangir Art Gallery at Kala Ghoda.
Das’s nude portrayal of what allegedly bore a likeness to the deity Shiva offended the sentiments of Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, a non-profit organisation that has previously objected to the works of celebrated artist M.F. Hussain. “The exhibition was intended to highlight mythological themes juxtaposed with contemporary subjects. I was asked to sign a declaration in Marathi, which I couldn't fathom and heavily warned not to reinstall any of the five paintings,” said the artist who waited six years for a solo at the gallery.
A portrait of Bharat Mata depicted as a tribal girl clutching a baby in a cloth sling was also one of the contentious pieces to be withdrawn. “The gallery is booked three years in advance. At the time of booking there is a selection committee that decides which artist will be granted space on the basis of quality of work, aesthetics and the artist’s profile. We also ask for five samples of their work, but since we book so much in advance there is no way for the gallery to tell what work the artists will present at the time of the actual showcase,” explained K.G. Menon, secretary, Jehangir Art Gallery.
While no censorship guidelines are in place Menon added that as a rule they wouldn’t allow certain extreme representations of the nude at the gallery. “We had an instance with a nude sculpture last year and because the artists wouldn't comply with the police to uninstall it the matter was dragged to the high court. To prevent from such extreme scenarios I personally requested Das to comply with the Samiti’s demands,” admitted Menon.
Menon further said two plain-clothed policemen were assigned to survey galleries in the Colaba radius, checking for sensitive content since the nude sculpture episode.