SOME saw the cow, others the hot air. As for two artistes, the installation The Bovine Divine, depicting a cow made of Styrofoam suspended by a balloon, on day one of the Jaipur Art Summit at Jawahar Kala Kendra here Saturday, earned them police questioning.
Anish Ahluwalia and Chitan Upadhyay were taken to the police station after they protested against the move to bring the cow down.
The plastic cow itself fared a little better. It was brought down, worshipped and garlanded by a group of protesters, before the installation was dismantled and eventually seized by police.
While the artistes said they only wanted to show what plastic does to cows, police differed. “The way the cow was hanging in the air,” frowned Bajaj Nagar Police Station SHO Mahendra Gupta, “it was only sending a negative message.”
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The incident came days after the newly appointed governing council of the Jawahar Kala Kendra, including eminent names such as Anish Kapoor, Jeet Thayil and Ranjit Hoskote, was scrapped in entirety. The first to be removed was British-Indian Kapoor, who recently wrote a scathing piece against Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a British newspaper, before the full panel was given the axe.
Artist Siddharth Kararwal, who came up with the idea to suspend the cow by a hot-air balloon, said it was in the air for barely half an hour when police arrived and told them to bring it down. He added that the installation meant to show “how cows consume plastic and die due to its consumption”. “The cow was made of Styrofoam and weighed barely 2 kg. It was designed that way so that it could fly.”
Ahluwalia and Upadhyay were kept at the police station for around two hours. “The message of the installation was harmony between humans and environment. Cows often scavenge for food and end up consuming plastic from the garbage, eventually dying from it. We had read about 10-15 kg of plastic being found in the stomach of deceased cows,” Ahluwalia said, adding they tried very hard to explain to police this “message”.
Organiser Vidya Sagar said police approached them about 12 noon when they were about to throw open the summit. “They said many people had approached them saying artists had portrayed ‘our cow’ inappropriately.”
The protesters came later, he added. “We had removed the installation and kept it in a store. Yet some members of an unidentified organisation arrived at Jawahar Kala Kendra, pulled it out of the room, and worshipped the cow and garlanded it,” Sagar said, adding that they were chanting “Gai humari mata hai” and “Gau mata zindabad”. “They were about a dozen.”
According to Ahluwalia, police did not specify who had complained about the installation, or “under which sections of the IPC or under what law they had detained us”.
“They asked us to lower the installation to the ground and even though we agreed, took Chintan and me to the police station. They shoved us into their vehicle,” he said, terming the experience “traumatic”.
SHO Gupta told The Sunday Express, “The message through the installation was unclear. So when the police control room started getting calls, we reached the site and later brought the artists to the police station for questioning. No FIR has been registered.”
Upadhyay has had solo exhibitions at Taipei, London, Budapest and Paris, among other places, and is better known for his ‘designer male babies’ series, a comment on female infanticide. Of late, he has been working on “Gandi Baat” project, which talks about sexuality.
A former journalist with BBC, Ahluwalia describes his art as “abstract” in a “political context”. He has had solo exhibitions in London and New Delhi etc, and also written and directed a couple of films.
“There was no FIR but there was enough to show unreasonable restrictions on freedom of speech and expression,” activist Kavita Srivastava said.
Shailendra Bhatt, founder-director of the summit, which is in its third year, said it was ironical that the installation was attacked despite its message being to save cows.
Artistes from 12 countries, including Leroy Parker from the US, Jung Jong Mee from Korea, Kamaladdin Ghotb of Iran and Mazher Nizar from Yemen, are among those participating in the summit, where about 260 works are to be displayed over the course of five days.