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The Art of censorship

From art shows being shut down to movies not being screened,art themed on LGBTI issues have always faced opposition. Artistes talk about life after the SC verdict

Written by Kevin Lobo | Published: December 12, 2013 2:19 am

From art shows being shut down to movies not being screened,art themed on LGBTI issues have always faced opposition. Artistes talk about life after the SC verdict.

Director Onir’s I AM won a National Award in the Best Film category in 2012,but the movie has still not been shown on Indian television. The film which was made up of four shorts,has one part that speaks about the exploitation of a gay man. Onir says,“When I went to the Central Board of Film Certification,they told me that we can’t have children watching two men looking lovingly into each other’s eyes. With Article 377 being upheld,it’s not just social stigma anymore,there is legal stigma as well.”

There has been anger and dismay from the art community,not just because same-sex intercourse has been criminalised,but because there could be far-reaching effects of the law,including censorship of the arts. There have been enough instances where artists have faced the ire of the moral police,from MF Husain and Akbar Padamsee to Tejal Shah. There is a fear that the law could be misinterpreted to censor art. But gallerist Abhay Maskara,who has shown works by artists such as T Venkanna and Shine Sivan,who question genders and sexuality,does not feel intimidated. “If the arts are going to cow down,there will be no freedom of expression. Whether it is legal or not,as gallerists and curators,our job is to give a space for the vision of an artist,” he says.

Gender and sexuality have been a constant theme in Jehangir Jani’s works. In 2007,a sculpture from Jani’s show,“Great Expectations”,at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya,Mumbai,was not allowed to be exhibited while another piece was put on display only after “the obscene part” was covered with a fig leaf. He says,“There are very few artists who work with sexuality and LGBT issues anyway. Even I am not considered a mainstream artist,I am classified as a gay artist. It’s important for art to be created without fear. How is that going to be possible when you have laws like this?”

Onir believes that it will be almost impossible for new voices in the arts to surface from among the LGBTI (Lesbian,Gay,Bisexual Transgender and Inter-sex) community. He says,“Young people,who are dealing with issues of their sexual identity,will be discouraged to come out. Getting new people exploring their sexuality through art will become that much more difficult.”

On Wednesday,at Azad Maidan in Mumbai,artist Neha Choksi was waiting in anticipation for the court order,confident that the Supreme Court will uphold the High Court ruling of 2009. “A single tweet broke our hearts,” she says of how she heard the news,“I am more angry than sad,it’s time we fight back.” Choksi’s art might not have obvious references to sexuality,but there are traces of it in her work. Her recent show at Project 88,which had two video art pieces Iceboat and Sky Fold,spoke of letting go,of transience. Choksi believes that her art won’t be affected by the law,and wants to be part of the larger struggle. “We need to canvas for the law to change and for that we need funds. If I get an organiser,I’d donate my work,” she says.

kevin.lobo@expressindia.com

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