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PACBI-City artist Spurns Israel invite for Palestine cause

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Saumit Singh | Bangalore Mirror | July 31, 2011

City artist Spurns Israel invite for Palestine cause

It was billed as the first major show of Indian art in Tel Aviv.  But with a section of Indian artists deciding to skip the event, and launching a political offensive for the cultural boycott of Israel, the issue now is snowballing into a vicious controversy which has split the artist fraternity down the middle.

Bangalore-based Pushpamala N was apparently among the 20-odd artists invited by the Israeli government to participate in 'Deconstruct-ing India’, a show to be held in April 2012 at the newly-built Amir Wing of the Tel Aviv Museum.

The 55-year-old photo-artist first dashed off a mail to the show’s curator, Tami Katz-Freiman, declining to take part, and then started a signature campaign to show solidarity with a Palestinian civil society movement which calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.

Well-known English novelist and art critic John Berger and author-activist Arundhati Roy are among a handful of international names who support the cultural boycott of Israel, while Sir Nicholas Hytner, the director of the London’s National Theatre, is one of the strongest critics of this approach. “It seems profoundly counter-productive to cease contact with precisely that section of Isra-eli society most likely to provoke a change in direction within Israel,” he has said.

In her mail, which has been widely circulated amongst Indian artists and galleries, Pushpmala drew attention to the efforts of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and claimed, “If we exhibit in this show, we will be legitimising the racist and apartheid policies of the Israeli government.”

Pushpamala’s stand is now being supported by a section of artists, including Tushar Joag, but others like noted art critic Girish Shahane have struck a strongly cautionary note. “If we start boycotting museum shows because of bad things governments are doing, where will it end? Why should Indian artists exhibit in China, when the regime there has been responsible for horrendous massacres and continues to deny basic freedom of expression to its citizens? Israel has done terribly by the Palestinians, but associating art institutions and centres of learning, even state-funded ones, so closely with state policy is a silly mistake in my opinion, and tokenism of the worst kind as well,” wrote Girish.

But it seems a section of artists is planning to lend support to the boycott call. Speaking to Mirror, Pushpamala said, “We are in the process of collecting signatures. I already have the backing of five participating artists and some more have expressed solidarity. Some artists are travelling. So, I am waiting for them to get back to me. I plan to issue a press statement in a few days.”

However, senior artists like Laxman Shreshta are firmly opposed to any such boycott. “It’s like the case of the rebel without a cause. I would not support Pushpamala at all. If Indian artists have been invited for this interesting exhibition, they should go there and show the world what they are doing. There’s no need to mix politics in this,” he said. It’s a feeling echoed by Atul Dodiya. “Any country which commits atrocities should be roundly condemned. But while even artists have political viewpoints, art itself cannot be a political tool. It is a means to create bonds, not break them. That’s why even with Pakistan, we continue to maintain cultural relations. So why not Israel?” he asked.

But the matter is set to escalate with the rest of the invited Indian artists being forced into taking a public stand, especially since the entire list of participating names, including Ravi Agarwal, Atul Bhalla, Anita Dube, Shilpa Gupta, Subodh Gupta, Ranbir Kaleka, Jitish Kallat, Riyas Komu, TV Santhosh, Sudarshan Shetty, Hema Upadhyay and Lochan Upadhyay have been made public.

At least Sudarshan Shetty isn’t amused by the hullabaloo. “I don’t have any fresh work to show there, so the curator is arranging to get some earlier works of mine from some private collectors. I will be participating though I am still to figure whether most of the others plan to. Though I personally condemn the Israeli occupation, I don’t think boycotting the show is a solution. You can instead use that opportunity to express your view. There are problems in almost every country,
including India, so should we completely stop exhibiting our art?

Posted on 31-07-2011

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