ACTOR Amol Palekar and his screenwriter wife Sandhya Gokhale said on Sunday that it was important to confront the government regarding the change of rules pertaining to arts exhibitions at the Ministry of Culture-run National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA). They said, if need be, they would “seek answers from the government regarding the arbitrary policy change”.
Palekar and Gokhale addressed mediapersons in Pune on Sunday in the backdrop of the NGMA incident on Friday when his speech, as a chief guest at the inauguration of a retrospective of artist Prabhakar Barve, was interrupted by organisers when he started voicing critical opinion about the recent changes in the gallery’s administration.
Palekar also expressed his dismay over the reaction of artists during and after the incident, which he said, has left him “shocked and deeply hurt”.
“When I wrote the speech to be delivered at the inauguration and included these pertinent issues about running of NGMA, I thought that I would be applauded by the artists on the dais and in the audience for raising the issues affecting them. However, when artists like Suhas Bahulkar and Jesal Thacker requested me to stop and interrupted my speech, I was shocked,” said Palekar, adding none of the senior artists present in the audience interfered when his speech was interrupted several times.
Sandhya Gokhale said: “We think that it is important to confront the government regarding the change of rules about holding arts exhibitions at the National Gallery of Modern Art. If needed, we would seek answers from the government regarding the arbitrary policy change.”
Palekar said he had not received any instructions from the organisers conveying to him that he could not be critical about government policies. He said he would have rejected the invitation if any such message had been conveyed to him.
“There are some who are saying it was improper for me to raise the issues at that platform as the event was to celebrate an artist who didn’t get his due. I must state here that I spoke at length about Barve and also shared a few anecdotes before turning to the issues pertaining to the management of the NGMA. Also, the organisers or curator of the exhibition, Jesal Thacker, had not conveyed to me while inviting me that I should not speak about any such issues at the event. So, I spoke what I thought was pertinent and they had no right to censor my speech after inviting me as a guest,” said Palekar.
He added that although he did not wish to, he had to cut his speech short out of respect for Thacker, who had invited him, as it must have put her in a precarious situation because she had worked hard and for a long time to organise the event.
“According to what I had heard and confirmed before the event, a disastrous decision was apparently taken, which meant that all future exhibitions of artworks not from NGMA’s own collection, would be allotted only 1/6th of the area in NGMA, Mumbai, restricting those only to the Dome area,” Palekar said.
He said it was a shock to him, and many other artistes. “While we would love to see the artworks presented by NGMA, why do they want to create such an either-or situation? Not just the new artists, but the recent works of the renowned artists, too, would not get proper place at NGMA due to this decision,” he said.
Palekar also mentioned that he was shocked that the proposed retrospectives of two other artists, Sudhir Patwardhan and Mehlli Gobhai, which had been approved earlier, have been cancelled. “If I cannot speak about these issues at the NGMA during a retrospective where else should I voice it? The director kept telling me to ‘stick to Barve’, and said that I could have talked about this to her in her cabin. Why is it appropriate to speak about this in the cabin, and not on a stage?,” asked Palekar.
Adwait Gadnayak, the director general, NGMA, issued a clarification refuting several allegations levelled by Palekar.
According to him, the advisory committees of NGMA Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi have not been dissolved. Their terms have ended recently and the committees are in the process of being reconstituted. He also said that the recommendations of the previous advisory committees (which are upto December 2019 for NGMA, Mumbai) will be honored and exhibitions of artists will take place as proposed.
“The new advisory committee will take a decision related to future exhibitions. Regarding permanent collections, it is clarified that NGMA proposes to display its own collections (including artworks by great masters) initially over a two-year period. Some artists have expressed their apprehensions about availability of less space for temporary exhibitions and retrospectives. NGMA is deliberating on suggestions received from artists, and a final decision will be taken shortly in consultation with all stakeholders,” he said.