IN 2008, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) had organised an exhibition on MF Husain to protest the India Art Summit’s reluctance to display the legendary artist’s works. This attracted the ire of some right-wing groups who attacked SAHMAT. Ironically, they ended up destroying Delhi-based photographer Parthiv Shah’s photos of Husain rather than the controversial paintings. The 48-year-old lensman tells Janani Ganesan how artistic freedom brings its own set of responsibilities for both the artist as well as the State.
EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW
What should the State’s role be when a work of art is publicly censored through violent means?
It is not just the State, it is also up to the artist or the organiser to execute something (they believe in). If you want to invite someone to an event, you can do it quietly as well. You can’t take it on and then expect everyone else to protect you. And people who want to protest can do so. But they don’t have any right to hurt me or my photograph. Or on the other hand, if you want to be defiant, then be prepared for the consequences.
When you say the artist should take responsibility for his/her acts, are you suggesting that Article 19(2) should be done away with?
I don’t know how many artists are familiar with the law. They usually don’t come together to form a guild or society like lawyers or architects. Recently, there was an artist who exhibited his paintings of Husain painting Vidya Balan nude and another of Arundhati Roy having sex with Mao. Now this is artistic freedom, but I don’t know what Roy has to say about this. How do you draw lines? When somebody gives you freedom, you are also responsible for it.
So there should be some level of censorship?
I wouldn’t call it censorship. Suddenly, there is a bomb blast and we wake up for a while and go back to sleep. This whole freedom of expression debate is similar to that. Did Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) file an FIR on the people who threatened to attack? If not, then as the JLF team, prominent individuals (present there) should have filed a case. Nobody wants to do anything about this. People reap their own advantages from controversies.
How would you, as an artist, define morality?
Morality changes with the society. There are no rules on morality. As long as you don’t hurt somebody else, it is okay. For that, the whole society has to evolve together. But in India, it is not going to happen now, given the vast differences.
Janani Ganesan is a Correspondent with Tehelka