NGMA Mumbai in censorship row over curtailing Amol Palekar's speech at exhibition opening

The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Mumbai, has found itself in the midst of a censorship row after veteran actor Amol Palekar was asked to cut short his speech at the opening of an exhibition of the artist Prabhakar Barwe's works.

As Palekar — a painter himself, and a close friend of Barwe — made critical remarks regarding recent developments at the NGMA, he was repeatedly interrupted and asked to restrict his comments to the exhibition alone. Video clippings of Palekar attempting to deliver his speech while being interrupted by the show's curators Jesal Thacker and Suhas Bahulkar, and the NGMA's director Anita Rupavataram were shared on social media.

NGMA Mumbai in censorship row over curtailing Amol Palekars speech at exhibition opening

Amol Palekar. File Photo

Palekar's speech (the full text of which was published by The Wire) began with him dwelling on the qualities of Barwe's work. He then called the exhibition itself "historic", because a retrospective of Barwe's work was being held nearly 24 years after his death [he passed away in 1995]. It was at this point — about halfway through his prepared speech, that Palekar referred to developments at the NGMA that he considered troubling.

Specifically, Palekar mentioned the NGMA's decision to restrict the space provided for exhibitions of artworks that were not part of its collection, and the dissolution late last year of an advisory committee (comprising local artists) who took decisions on which exhibitions would be organised at the Mumbai and Bengaluru centres of the NGMA. The latter development, Palekar felt, would mean these two centres of the NGMA would function as per the discretion of the Ministry of Culture, while the artist fraternity was sidelined.

It was at this point that Thacker repeatedly insisted that Palekar confine his speech to anecdotes and comments about Prabhakar Barwe's work.

Palekar asked if he was being told "not to speak" and compared the manner in which he was being asked to censor his comments to Nayantara Sahgal being disinvited from the All India Marathi Literary Meet this January, ater threats from members of political parties.

Amid the repeated interruptions, Palekar then skipped ahead to his concluding remarks, saying:

“This control over NGMA which is the sacrosanct venue for artistic expression and viewing of diverse art is the recent-most casualty in this ‘war against humanities’ as someone recently put it. I am truly disturbed, and much more disturbed now. Where is it going to stop? This sea of freedom is receding day by day, gradually but incessantly. Why are we silent about this?"

Curator Jesal Thacker told Scroll that her intention "was not to prevent Amol from finishing his speech". "Views that are not directly related to the subject of the evening can always be expressed at another platform appropriate for that specific concern,” she was quoted as saying.

NGMA director Anita Rupavataram reportedly told Palekar: "It would have been good if you had discussed this issue with us personally and not spoken here at the public platform."

Palekar himself told The Wire that the organisers' response was unexpected. "The recent development at the gallery has been of great concern," he said. "I thought what better platform than the gallery itself to speak of the issue?”

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Updated Date: Feb 10, 2019 00:24:17 IST

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