"Untitled, from the series 'Sun City', 2011" © Sunil Gupta/Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi
Late last month, the Alliance Française in New Delhi closed down an exhibition of Indian born and UK-based photographer Sunil Gupta's work after the organisation received a complaint over the content of Gupta's images.
The work, dubbed Sun City and Other Stories, depicts the double life of a homosexual man. "He alternates between livign out a romantic relationship above ground or in the open, and another life where he discovers the gay bath house and slowly progresses towards increasing degrees of intimacy with a series of anonumous partners," writes Gupta.
The work is "a fictional narrative loosely based on the 1962 film La Jetée by Chris Marker," he adds. "We can view it as some 'stills' from a film that is 'missing' The original elliptical form has been retained so the 'hero' sees his own death in the 'beginning' and we return to that scene as reality in the 'end'."
Sun City was commissioned by the Centre Pompidou in Paris and selected by Alliance Française to appear in its New Delhi gallery. However, says the artist, on opening day, the police received a complaint over the content of Gupta's images, that resulted in Alliance Française closing down the exhibition.
Speaking to BJP, Gupta explains what happened:"During the opening night, the exhibition was visited by the police as someone had complained to them that obscene material was on display. They asked for all the bathhouse pictures to be taken down. A request that was complied with on the spot by the management of the venue, the Alliance Française de Delhi. As the exhibition comprised of three series of works, including "Sun City" which involved the bath house pictures, I was surprised when the AF decided to close the show in it's entirety without giving any reason."
He continues: "A few days later the story broke in the Delhi newspapers and the police were quoted that there were not bringing charges and that they had nothing against the exhibition. Upon hearing this news, Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, a local artists activist organisation sent the AF an open letter demanding an explanation or else to face a boycott of the institution. This was signed by several leading contemporary artists and gallerists in Delhi."
At that point, the Alliance Française invited Gupta to remount the exhibition. "But this time they didn't even allow it to open," he says. "After a couple of days I decided to take down the work as it seemed silly to have the exhibition locked up. Finally this weekend the AF did issue a statement saying that they were intimidated by the police, etc. But what is worrying is that there were actually no charges filed and that a gallery shut a show down on the pretext of 'sensitivities to local culture.' The artists' are not impressed with the gallery's late and rather inadequate response.
According to a report published by Pink News, Alliance Française said: "The decision to shut down the exhibition was taken by the director [of Alliance Française] unanimously with the artist. The opening of the exhibition, held on Friday, was a private affair and during the opening only it was decided that we will not continue with the exhibition."
In a statement released to the press and published by Pink News, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, which campaigns for the arts, says: "If major institutions like the Alliance Française cannot stand up against complaints made by a single individual and support the work of an artist they have invited to exhibit, they do not deserve the respect or patronage of the art community. We hope the Alliance will clarify the circumstances which have led to yet another instance of moral policing against the freedom of expression."
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