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Posted on Feb 06, 09:44PM | IANS
New Delhi, Feb 6 : The capital saw two groups - Durga Vahini, the women's arm of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and a band of 20 intellectuals - engage in heated arguments over an exhibition titled "The Naked and the Nude" at a gallery here.
Over 50 activists of the Durga Vahini, carrying placards against nudity, assembled outside the Delhi Art Gallery, Hauz Khas studio village, demanding that the gallery withdraw the exhibition.
The group of intellectuals and artists, meanwhile, including photographer-activist Ram Rahman, critic Nilanjana S. Roy, and painters Manu Parekh and Kanchan Chander, defended the exhibition saying the protest was an attempt to stifle creative expression.
Durga Vahini activists raised slogans like "Ham Bharat Ki Nari Hain, Band Karo, Band Karo (We are Indian Women, Shut down the Exhibition!)" and "Nagnata bardasht nahin (We will not tolerate nudity)". The artists and writers attempted to persuade the protestors, explaining that such acts would quell freedom in artistic and cultural pursuits.
A posse of at least 30 policemen and private security guards cordoned off the exhibition venue, allowing protestors to battle it out.
The gallery owner and staff refused to be intimidated by the protests, and the exhibition continued.
"Nudity would not be tolerated in art in view of the recent incidents of gender atrocities and rape. It goes against Indian moral sensibility," a senior functionary of the Durga Vahini told IANS, refusing to be identified.
Independent editor, free speech crusader and writer Nilanjana S. Roy said: "This has been happening for the last 10 years. It is a slow set of pitched battles... A protestor (against the show) was spreading rumours that the paintings were of rape victims."
She said "nobody was buying the idea of the VHP protestors and there was a political motive behind the orchestrated protests".
Roy cited Supreme Court judgments saying "dissent was fine but one could not afford to be selective in protest".
The exhibition has been in the news since it opened Feb 1 to coincide with the India Art Fair Feb 1-3, which has, in the past, courted controversy for exhibiting M.F. Husain's works. After the artist's death in 2011, the fair exhibited Husain's works without criticism.
Husain had to leave the country in 2006 and died as a citizen of Qatar after right wing activists protested against "objectionable depiction" of gods and goddesses in his Bharat Mata paintings.
On Wednesday, the Chitra Kala Parishad in Bangalore had to remove art works of Hindu gods and goddesses by young artist Anirudh Sainath after the BJP protested their "blatant nature".
The nude exhibition at the Delhi Art Gallery features 258 works, and traces the history of nudes in the history of modern Indian art for over 150 years in a variety of mediums.
Almost all masters of Indian art - K.H. Ara, F.N. Souza, Jamini Roy, M.F. Husain, Chittoprasad, Gogi Saroj Paul, Jogen Chowdhury, Jahangir Sabavala and Akbar Padamsee - painted nudes as an academic pursuit to master anatomical drawing and sensuous form, art critic, writer and curator Kishore Singh said.
The gallery, which has one of the biggest collections of modern Indian art in the country, is known for its broad-canvas shows on different aspects of modern Indian art with time-sweeps of at least 200-400 years to help viewers understand art history.
The country has seen a spate of protests against free expression recently, including the controversy over statements made by renowned sociologist Ashis Nandy at the Jaipur Literary Fest last month.