#MeToo: Artist association Khoj issues statement after director Pooja Sood's email to Subodh Gupta draws flak

  • The email from Sood is part of the defamation case against the Instagram account which carried allegations of sexual harassment against Subodh Gupta.

  • In the email dated December, 2018, Sood stated that all the board members of Khoj were with Gupta.

  • In a new statement Khoj reiterated that the decision to ask Gupta to step down was categorical and unanimous.

Days after an email written by Pooja Sood, the director of artists association Khoj, to contemporary artist Subodh Gupta, in light of #MeToo allegations against him, was made public by the @MeTooIndia handle on Twitter, the association released a statement reiterating that the decision to ask Gupta to step down was "categorical and unanimous".

Written by Sood, who is also one of the founding members of Khoj, the letter was sent on 20 December 2018 after Gupta's name was mentioned in multiple anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct. The same email is part of Gupta's defamation suit against @herdsceneand, an Instagram account which carried the allegations.

Even though Khoj said it was "committed to creating safe spaces for its community" while announcing Gupta's exit from the organisation in December 2018, Sood's email to the artist had stated "all the board members" were with him. Sood also worried about upsetting the association's funders — the Rockefeller Foundation and Ford Foundation — who have “very stringent guidelines for a safe space policy”. She also named two board members in the letter to say that they were "frothing at the mouth at the way this MeToo movement is being used to target people".

In the new statement acknowledging Sood's email, Khoj has now said that the decision to oust Gupta was taken after recognising how "gendered power particularly is allowed to be misused".

Gupta was a founding member of the arts organisation and a member of its board since 1997. However, after allegations were made against him, he and his wife Bharti Kher stepped down from Khoj's board.

In September 2019, nine months after the allegations were posted on Instagram, Gupta sued the admin of @herdsceneand for defamation in a Rs 5 crore suit. The Delhi High Court has now directed Facebook to reveal the identity of the admin. The posts were already taken down from all social media platforms as per an earlier injunction.

Here is the new statement released by Khoj in full:

Khoj and members of its Board are disturbed by certain actions which undeniably have the effect of discrediting and suppressing conversation around sexual harassment in the art world.

Khoj has been deeply concerned about events that have unfolded with regard to sexual harassment in the art world since December 2018. The allegations made against Subodh Gupta were of direct relevance to Khoj as Subodh Gupta is a founding member of Khoj and has been a member of the Board since 1997.

Shortly after allegations of sexual harassment against him were posted on the instagram handle @herdsceneand and became public on or around Dec 15, 2018, the Board decided that even while no formal complaint was made, Subodh Gupta be requested to step down. At this time, Bharti Kher too stepped down from the Board of Khoj although no such request was ever made by Khoj.

The Board is aware of a personal email written in December, 2018 by Pooja Sood to Subodh Gupta. It is reiterated that a unanimous and categorical decision was taken to ask Subodh Gupta to step down from the Board in December, 2018.

The “MeToo” movement has thrown light on the pervasiveness of sexual harassment in different fields. It has also highlighted the professional and social compulsions and institutional shortcomings that deter women from subjecting themselves to complaint and inquiry proceedings, the factors that deter women from identifying themselves, the fear of retaliation, as well as the difficulty in speaking out .The art world is largely an unorganized sector that operates through individual networking and mentorship. The lack of formal structures and avenues for redressal or to protect the interests of its workers exacerbates the manner in which gendered power particularly is allowed to be misused. These were some of the factors that informed the Khoj Board’s decision in December, 2018.

At the same time Khoj initiated legal consultations on the issue and is engaged in measures to set up prevention and redressal mechanisms to ensure a safe work space.

In July, 2019 Khoj received multiple communications from the gallery, Nature Morte informing Khoj that Subodh Gupta has been exonerated and suggesting that Khoj should invite him back on to the Board. This was discussed at the Khoj Board meeting on 1 September, 2019 and it was unanimously decided that there would be no change in Khoj’s position.

Khoj maintains that it recognises and accepts the social and ethical obligation to take a stand on issues of sexual harassment.

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Updated Date: Oct 12, 2019 13:02:56 IST