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A city-based art gallery was forced to shut down a five-day-old exhibition of silk screen prints, on selected works of legendary artist M F Husain, after its organisers reportedly received anonymous phone calls and text messages threatening protests if the event continued. The exhibition of prints, or serigraphs, created by Husain’s friend Anil Relia, had opened at the India House Art Gallery in Balewadi on November 3 and was scheduled to go on till November 12.
Ramprasad Akkisetti, curator of the gallery, said the management decided to ‘suspend’ the exhibition after receiving calls from anonymous persons from various cities in Maharashtra. The callers threatened the organisers, saying that unless the show was suspended, they would hold demonstrations against it, said Akkisetti.
He said the callers did not identify themselves as being part of any group or political party. According to the organisers, the callers had questioned how the work of someone, “who had desecrated India and Hindu deities”, could be displayed.
“The show has been suspended because some people from Kolhapur, Mumbai and Pune called our gallery landline number… they asked us to suspend the show, and said if the show continued, they would hold demonstrations against it. So, we suspended the show in order to maintain peace,” Akkisetti told The Indian Express. A notice to this effect was also put up on the gallery’s website.
The limited edition serigraphs are a series of prints made from Husain’s works. They were created by Relia who, apart from being a friend of the late artist, is also a well-known collector of art. Serigraph scrolls are comparatively affordable and can make works of renowned artists available to admirers who may not be able to buy the originals.
Relia is also credited with creating the largest serigraph in India, on Husain’s ‘Mother Teresa’ Series, which was also on display at the Balewadi exhibition.
These serigraphs have earlier been showcased in exhibitions in New York, London, Dubai, Beijing, Shanghai, Tokyo and Singapore.
Lisa Pingale, owner of the Monalisa Kalagram Art Gallery in Koregaon Park, who had attended the inauguration of the exhibition, said the incident is worrying. “The city of Pune has been deprived of a fabulous show. It’s rare to see an exhibition like this. Art and politics are two separate things and should not be linked. Personally, I would be worried about what I display at my gallery,” she said.
Piyush Jain, a 23-year-old old aspiring city-based painter who had visited the exhibition on Tuesday, a day before it was ‘suspended’, said, “I had loved the exhibition… for an artist like me, Husain saab is an inspiration, an idol. There’s a lot to learn from him. It’s clear that there’s some politics behind the threats and pressure to shut down the exhibition. It’s unfortunate”.
Husain, one of the most celebrated artists in Indian history, had invited the ire of conservative groups for depicting Hindu goddesses naked in some of his paintings. He had faced strong protests and legal challenges from Hindutva groups, some of which had even vandalised his exhibitions. Husain had lived in Qatar and London in a self-imposed exile since 2005. He died in June 2011 in London, a year after he had surrendered his Indian passport.