Monday 16 July 2007
Saturday 14 July 2007
- The MSU Syndicate in its meeting ratified the decision of VC on the suspension issue and has not taken any decision regarding the wide scale criticism over the composition of the Vice Chancellor’s Inquiry Committee which is presently investigating into the incidents at the Faculty of Fine Arts. Minutes and resolution to this effect issued on 7 June 2007
- Professor Romila Thapar, Professor Jayati Ghosh, Professor Shivaji Panikkar and others address Press Conference organized by SAHMAT at Press Club, New Delhi on 29 May
- On 5 June, the Registrar SMSed Professor Panikkar asking him to submit results of various papers being examined at the graduate and post graduate examinations and allowing him permission to enter the campus for this purpose. Professor Panikkar replied that as per law he could submit results only if the suspension was withdrawn. The Registrar clarified that the suspension had not been withdrawn but urged Professor Panikkar to submit results anyway. Professor Panikkar then reiterated that as per law it was illegal to discharge any official responsibility while under suspension. Recently, in spite of the legal clarifications offered, Professor Panikkar has yet again been asked to submit results by the Registrar.
- On 9 June, staff members of the Faculty gave the Governor, in his capacity as a Visitor to the University, a Memorandum that apprised him of the situation. The primary demands of the staff members were the following:
- An FIR be lodged by the University authorities against Niraj Jain and associates for intruding into the University premises without permission.
- The attached artworks be released forthwith to enable the completion of evaluation and declaration of result
- The suspension of i/c Dean, Professor Shivaji K Panikkar who was the only University authority who attempted to prevent the disruption of examinations, protect the students and redress their grievances, be revoked unconditionally with immediate effect.
- That the Governor, as the Visitor to the University, intervene and set up an inspection into all the official actions taken by the university authorities with regard to the Faculty of Fine Arts, as their actions clearly compromise the autonomy of the University and violate the sanctity and integrity of University education.
- That appropriate action be initiated against the Vice Chancellor for abdication of responsibility towards the University at a critical moment, failure to take action against the intruders and disruption of the examination process.
- To set up, in his Capacity as the Governor of Gujarat State, a Judicial Level committee to inquire into the entire events starting from the Fine Arts Faculty to the developments thereafter, like the announcement of a reward of Rs. 1 lakh for a nude portrait of Prophet Mohammed by Mr. Deepak Shah, a senate member of the University and the appearance of the nude portrait of Prophet Mohammed in the D.N, Hall in the main University Campus, that led to a riot-like situation in the Old City area of Vadodara.
Such an inquiry, the staff members felt was of prime importance particularly since there was a clear indication that a section of the public was actively trying not only to vitiate the atmosphere in the University but was also instigating and provoking religious clashes among people of various faiths. The students and Chandramohan also petitioned the Governor about the events that occurred in the Faculty of Fine Arts.
- The University reopened. The strike by the students which was suspended on 14 May was restared. More than 150 students gathered at the Faculty ; huge banners were put up reiterating demands to file FIR against Niraj Jain, to revoke suspension of Shivaji Panikkar and protesting University apathy in general. The students continue the dharna at the Faculty till 21 May. The students wrote a letter of appeal to the general public elucidating their point of view, and highlighting Chandra Mohan’s position as a student. Their appeal was carried widely in the Gujarati papers- and the heartening thing was that the local opinion and the local media were and continue to be quite sympathetic.
- The Staff members also decide to protest against University decisions regarding the Faculty, primarily the decision to suspend Professor Shivaji Panikkar. The Dean, Professor Deepak Kannal tried to mediate between the University authorities and the Faculty of Fine Arts but no headway was made.
- A delegation of staff members meet the VC to discuss the issue on the 22 May but the talks are disappointing as the University position did not show any significant shift from that of 11 May. The teachers later apprise the Chancellor of the meeting between them and the VC on the 27 May. The students also stage a dharna at the University office on 22 May for the first time and hand over a memorandum stating their demands to the VC. They continue staging dharna at the University office till date. They made the following demands:
- An FIR be filed against Mr. Niraj Jain and his associates by the University for disrupting the examination evaluation process and forcefully entering into the examination hall.
- The confiscated works be returned to the students/Faculty with an immediate effect in order to complete the evaluation process.
- Immediate and unconditional revocation of the suspension of Professor Shivaji K Panikkar.
- Disbanding of the biased inquiry committee.
- On 23 June, the alumni of the Faculty were invited by the students to paint on canvases to symbolize solidarity with students and staff of the Faculty. Senoir artists like Jyoti Bhatt, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Natraj Sharma and others participated. The Painting Department building was draped in black plastic to suggest the gagging of the Faculty.
- On 25 June the Baroda University Teacher’s Union demanded the revocation of the suspension of Shivaji Panikkar and condemned the attack on Fine Arts and disruption of Exams on 9/May/07. Later, on 2 July, BUTA members met with the Governor and urged His Excellency to look into the matter.
- The general University position so far has been that Professor Panikkar should write a note of explanation/apology and the University would revoke the suspension. This however would not entail the dissolution of the Inquiry Committee which would continue to function. Professor Panikkar has refused to do so. The Faculty position is that any revocation of the suspension order should be unconditional and with honor.
- On 26 June, students asked the VC to respond to their demands listed out in the Memorandum that they had given earlier. The VC said that he had conveyed the response to the Dean. The Dean denied being informed anything by the University authorities. The students, not getting a satisfactory answer from the authorities, decide to go on a relay hunger strike. On 29 June 70 students sit on a mass token hunger strike. This is followed by relay hunger strike by 5 students a day. This has continued till date. From 4 July onwards, the Faculty staff have joined the students on the relay hunger strike.
- On 2 July, a protest rally was taken to the University office. Twice the Vice Chancellor met student representatives. The V.C. refused to respond to the queries of the students and merely asked them to return to their classes. The next day, University officials lock the entry gate to the office. When protesting students sat in front of University gate locked by University officials, they were accused of obstructing the functioning of the office. Students relocated away from the gate. V.C. addressed the protesters and instructed them to leave. The police were called in to arrest the peaceful and silent protesters. All students (about 45) detained at Fatehgunj police station. Striking teachers arrive at police station to lend support. The students were let off at 6:00 pm
- On 5 July, Dean Deepak Kannal along with Prof. Shivaji Panikkar, Vasudevan Akkitham, i/c Head of the Painting Department and S Santhosh, meet with University authorities negotiate the matter with disappointing results. Representatives of the University merely reiterate the earlier position of the authorities. The officials accused the Faculty of Fine Arts of malpractices within the campus.
- The next day, 6 July students turn up at the Faculty in large numbers. BUTA members join students in hunger strike, more than 100 University teachers join the Dharna in support. Dean Deepak Kannal resigns in protest of University apathy.
- Prof. Shivaji Panikkar assaulted in Ahmedabad on 6 July where he had gone to inaugurate a students’ poster exhibition on communal harmony. In what was clearly a pre-planned attack, Professor Panikkar’s taxi-cab was attacked by about 15-20 assailants carrying lathis, stones and bricks as well as an iron drum which was used to shatter the windshield, windows and smash the body of the car. Professor Panikkar was manhandled, but managed to escape. His driver, Vijay Rajput sustained injuries on his face, hand and neck. An unknown outfit called Hindu Samrajya Sena has claimed the attack. An FIR was filed at Navrangpura Police Station, Ahmedabad. No arrests have been made so far, despite photographs of the attack being available.
- On Saturday, 7 July, students block Faculty office in condemnation of the attack on Professor Shivaji Panikkar. Later students allow office staff to enter and then surround the office, stopping people from going in or out. The Registrar and Dy. Registrar ask the students to withdraw the protest. Students decline in the absence of concrete steps to resolve the issue. University releases Final year BFA students’ results. The next day, students along with staff members and Professor Shivaji Panikkar go to Ahmedabad to address meeting organized by All India Save Education Committee and appraise the gathering of the current situation.
STATEMENT OF FACTS BY SHABNAM HASHMI (ANHAD) ON THE AATACK BY THE SANGH PARIVAR ON JULY 6, 2007 AT ST XAVIER'S SOCIAL SERVICE SOCIAL SERVICE SOCIETY
ANHAD, the organizer of the event. Shivaji K Panikkar
Anhad is organizing the National Student's Festival
for Peace, Communal Harmony and Justice (July 6-8,
2007) in Ahmedabad. The festival is showcasing the
selected entries from across India -60 paintings by
school children, 80 design entries by media students
and 45 student documentary films.
Anhad invited Prof. Shivji Panikkar to inaugurate the
Exhibition (at Father Erviti Memorial hall, St
Xavier's Social Service Society), and Nafisa Ali to
inaugurate the Student Video Documentary Film Festival
(Diamond Jubilee Auditorium, Loyola Hall, St Xavier's
High School Campus). The inauguration of the
exhibition was at 10.30. The exhibition of the Student
Film Festival was at 11.30pm.
I was waiting for Panikkar to come. Around 10.40, I
called him and he said he is about to reach. Nafisa
Ali had already arrived. After speaking to Nafisa for
a few minutes I walked towards the gate to receive
Panikkar. As I reached the gate of the Xavier's campus
I was shocked to see Panikkar's car surrounded by a
Mob. They were shouting slogans Panikkar go back.
Bharat mata ki jai …
I pushed myself inside the crowd and reached
Panikkar's car, the mob was throwing stones, one of
them threw a large rusted iron drum on the bonnet of
the car , the same drum was thrown again on the car ,
the drum cracked the front car glass . Sahir who had
by now reached and was just behind me, managed to take
away the drum from a goon's hand, and take it away, in
the process injuring himself. Two of the attackers
threw two bricks which broke the front glass, one of
the bricks hit the driver on the forehead.
All this happened at a very fast speed and it took me
sometime to come to senses. I stood near the door so
that mob could not drag out Panikkar which they were
trying to do and then I started shouting at the top of
my voice at the mob. For a few moments everything
stopped and they moved backwards. I told Panikkar and
the driver to take away the car at full speed as I as
an organizer was unable to guarantee any security. I
told them to rush to the nearest Police station. By
now the mob realised that they were trying to leave
and they tried to block the car from leaving and
continued to throw stones. Fortunately the driver
speeded up and was able to move away.
Gagan Sethi and Gauhar Raza, who were at the venue
immediately rushed to the Police station, Navrangpura
and told we informed Panikkar on the phone to go to
the same police station.
Mob had already broken all our festival hoardings
which were outside the gate. Now they forced their
entry into the compound raising slogans Modi amar
rahe, desh ke gaddaron wapas jao and bharat mata ki
jai ( all in Gujarat) and started breaking and
vandalising the display in the compound (outside the
exhibition hall) mobbed and threatened Sarup Ben,
Zakia Jowher, Bina ben (from aman samudaya) and me.
They used highly abusive, sexist and filthy language.
Their body language and gestures were highly
aggressive and vulgar. The attack on Bina , Zakia and
Sarup ben was of being 'gaddars' (traitors). The
attack on me was of insulting gujarati asmita being an
outsider and entering Gujarat. This continued for
about 20 minutes. Then suddenly a signal from one of
them( which later I realized was a police man from
local intelligence- who was part of the mob) that
police was coming, made all of them leave suddenly.
After the police arrived, the man in plain clothes was
standing with them and I went and told the police that
this man was part of the mob, which they ignored and
said he is from the police. Later in the police
station I again showed the man to the Police Inspector
Desai, but he also ignored it completely.
It was very clear that the attack was master minded by
the police and the BJP and the Sangh combine.
After the commotion was over around 12.30 we announced
that we will defer the opening of the exhibition.
Nafisa Ali inaugurated the Film Festival.
We went to the police station around 1 pm by now
Panikkar's FIR was being lodged. I spoke to Desai the
PI ( Police Inspector) and said I need to lodge an FIR
too, which he refused. We decided to return later with
After all the formalities of Panikkar's FIR were over,
we took Panikkar to the exhibition under police
protection and inaugurated the exhibition around
Then we called the lawyer, prepared the complaint and
meanwhile developed the photographs which were taken
of the mob.
We went to the police station around 5pm with the
lawyer and we were there almost till 9pm. The police
refused to file an FIR. I spoke to the Police
Commissioner on the phone I was told both by the PI
and the commissioner that we should have taken
permission from the police to holds the programme as
we were using loud speakers! We informed both of them
that the programme was inside the premises of an
institution, inside halls and not in a public place.
The PI said you can not show films. These are student
video documentaries, and for film lovers and students
It is very clear that by lodging the FIR from me on
Anhad's behalf, Police will have to arrest the members
of the mob as we have provided their photographs and
also they will also have to take some action against
the local intelligence man(whose involvement the
Police Commisioner has already refuted). I have given
all details at the back of the photographs to the
police of the people who attacked the car, the man who
threw the brick, the man who threw the rusted drum,
the goons who mobbed us. Their faces are circled in
the photographs that are being circulated with this
When the attack took place on Panikkar's there were at
least three video camera's and a number of
photographers. The footage seems to have vanished.
Anhad is organising a meeting of activists and
academicians today at 4 at Ahmedabad.
and Husain attacks in the recent past. As a veteran target of BJP/RSS
assaults and their hate propaganda machine beginning with the SAHMAT
'Hum Sab Ayodhya' exhibit fracas in August 1993, we did learn a few
We cannot clearly understand the ground realities of these assaults
without understanding the politics of the larger cultural agenda of
the Sangh Parivar. Husain was the perfect target for them for the last
12 years. He was Muslim, he was the most famous artist in India, his
vast range of subject matter included Hindu icons. It was very easy
for the Sangh to project distorted interpretations of his modernist
vocabulary. But I think we have to understand that these hate
campaigns are aimed primarily at rousing the Hindutva constituency
themselves. They usually occur when things are not going well for the
sangh politically…loosing electoral support etc. If, as a fallout, the
propaganda is successful in spreading their poison in the larger civil
society, all the better.
The assault on the Baroda department clarifies the broadening agenda
of the Sangh assault on the secular and liberal cultural space. It has
shifted beyond the 'Muslims'…Husain, Shabana, Amir Khan. The Sangh is
not interested in Shivji Pannikar, Chandramohan, their essays or their
art. They couldn't care less what happens to them. I think it's very
clear they are out to destroy the department, and eventually fill it
with their own appointees. The very source of all these 'liberal
secular' artists and scholars will be sliced off at the root. Witness
what has happened to institutions at the centre or the states when the
Sangh has been in control: The IGNCA in Delhi, Bharat Bhavan in
Bhopal. It should also be clearly understood that the Sangh works
extremely systematically. The Jain invasion of the review session was
not spontaneous and isolated. Within days, photocopies of
Chandramohan's images were in discussion at the BJP parliamentary
board meeting in Delhi, Arun Jaitley was writing on them in the
newspapers, Sushma Swaraj was hosting an official BJP symposium on
'Obscene Art'. The idea that a 'discussion' should be initiated with
the BJP or Maneka Gandhi or Advani is very naïve. We should also
realise this is agenda not restricted to Gujarat alone.
The entire arts community is a target. We are all at risk as it is
open season now. While liberal voices are rightly raised in protest,
we should also realise these mean nothing to the Sangh parivar. they
could not care less. The only counter to them can be political, and
our voices are our only means of trying to persuade other political
forces to counter this hate machine politically. We can only hope they
will be heard.
Postscript: On a more positive note, I'd like to quote from Geeta
Kapur's remarks on Ramu Gandhi at his memorial at the IIC in Delhi a
few weeks ago. Mentioning that she had a conversation with Ramu on
Husain and his forced exile shortly before Ramu's death, Geeta quoted
Ramu was extremely pained by the fact of Husain's imposed exile, he
said " I cannot understand why they are attacking Husain. He is like a
child. How can they attack him? He is like a toymaker ..like our
traditional toymakers everywhere….he takes ideas, images, materials
and colours and he plays with them like a child …like a toymaker, and
like those toymakers, he will conjure up an image….and some of them
will magically be icons…"
I was very moved by this, and apologise to Geeta for quoting it, but I
felt it important to share!!!
Wednesday 13 June 2007
Thursday 31 May 2007
The whole episode at the MS University, Baroda is scandalous at several levels:
1) At a basic level, every citizen of India--whether an artist or not--has the right to express himself.
2) In the present case, the self-expression did not take place in public but within the private domain, and so could not hurt any outsider.
3)The artist in this case was working as a part of an academic course and the person to decide whether he or she was acting in an acceptable manner was his or her supervisor or dean or head of department or the vice-chancellor. It is to guard this tradition that universities are made autonomous bodies. And outside organs, like the police, are forbidden from entering the campus without the express permission from the head.
4) The worst culprit in the present case is the Vice-Chancellor. It is his duty to ensure the safety of his students and staff and to safeguard the smooth funcioning of the university. The VC should have thrown the police out and demanded the release of the student. What he has done in fact is completely irresponsible. Certainly, in my entire life, in my dealings with many universities, I have not seen or heard of such shocking behaviour. The VC should be asked to resign and if he doesn't, sacked for derilection of duty.
This is not a minor episode. It foreshadows developments which could endanger the very basis of our civilization. If we let this go through without opposition, only deluge will follow.
Condemn repression of artists in M.S.University,Vadodara by M.S.Thimmappa Former Vice Chancellor,Bangalore University.
duty.India all through the ages has been nurturing divergence of ideas,faith and actions.The actions of those so called Hindu Activist is truly un-Indian.I express my solidarity and support to the group which is spearheading the protest, let us keep on protesting till the authorities rescind their heinous actions.
Former Vice Chancellor,
Monday 28 May 2007
Dr. Manoj Soni
The Maharaja Siyajirao University of Baroda
Fatehgunj, Vadodara: 390002
I am directed to quote below a resolution adopted by the Executive Council
(highest decision making body of the University) at the 'Zero Hour' of
meeting held on May 16, 2007 for your kind information:
'This meeting of the Executive Council of Jadavpur University notes with
deep concern and shock the recent events at the M.S. University of Baroda
which included the arrest of a student without any FIR or warrant,
disruption of regular academic activities by police and hooligans, the
suspension of the Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts by the Vice-Chancellor.
This meeting strongly condemns the intrusion of intolerance in one of the
most important institutes of the teaching of the arts in India in the name
of protecting some misguided notion of tradition.
We record our support of the courageous stand of the Dean of the Faculty of
Fine Arts, Professor Shivaji Pannikar.
We condemn this and other similar events, which have tried to vitiate the
traditions of plurality, enquiry and experimentation on academic campuses in
India. We urge all academics, students, artists and intellectuals to take an
active role in ensuring that certain fundamentalist individuals and groups
do not succeed in their efforts to stifle values enshrined in democratic,
artistic, academic and constitutional systems.'
Wednesday 23 May 2007
09May 2007 – 11 May 2007
The Maharaja Sayajirao Universiy of Baroda is amongst the top Universities in the country with very high global repute. The Faculty of Fine Arts is amongst its very best Faculties and is one of the top ranking institutions world-wide in the field of Fine Arts.
University Claim: On 9 May 2007, the citizens of Vadodara lodged their strong protest at the Faculty of Fine Arts, of the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. The protest was against an exhibition displaying a number of artworks deeply hurting the sentiments of Faith and decency of the society at large.
Response: The University claims that it took all its actions based on a strong protest that the ‘citizens of Vadodara’ had lodged. These so-called citizens have not been identified by the University authorities at any point. Where were their protests lodged? If with the University, why did the University authorities not communicate this to the authorities at the Faculty of Fine Arts? If not, the question is why were the University authorities not present when serious police action was being undertaken and examinations at the Faculty were being disrupted by these ‘citizens’. This was in spite of repeated phone calls made by the then i/c Dean. He was helplessly trying to apprise the University authorities of the situation when these so called ‘citizens’ were abusing staff and students of the Faculty, pushing them and manhandling the student.
University Claim: It is noteworthy that during his telephonic conversation with the Vice Chancellor over this incidence of protest, the then in-charge Dean Professor S. K. Panniker (who is currently suspended from the University Services) also termed these works of art as “objectionable”.
Response: This statement is misleading. Professor Shivaji K. Panikkar said that the issue is not whether the art work is objectionable or not; rather the issue is about a student of the University being arrested on the basis of his examination work without prior information given to the University or Faculty authorities. There are legitimate ways to lodge one’s objections and if it is overlooked by the concerned authorities (University/ Faculty) only then the question of lodging a complaint to the police or making a protest arises. Further, it is a shame that a person of a Vice Chancellor’s stature should try to misrepresent a part of the remark made over a telephonic conversation and try implicate or even insinuate that Professor Shivaji K Panikkar is also among those who found the art works “objectionable”.
University Claim: The protest was verbal and peaceful. The citizens had come to the Faculty of Fine Arts having read a news item in the Times of India dated 07 May 2007 and Gujarati daily Sandes dated 09 May 2007. These news items mentioned that the Works of Art created by the students of the Faculty as a part of their Annual Examination were open for public display on the 9th May 2007. Such public display has been a tradition. In fact, one of the teachers of the Faculty had sent messages through SMS inviting people to the display at the Faculty of Fine Arts. Thus, the claim in the media that the display was not open for public is untrue.
Response: Why are the University authorities saying that the display of examination work by students at the Faculty is a public exhibition? It is actually curious that the University authorities are now suddenly trying to designate the long standing examination procedures as a public exhibition. In its long history, the practical examination of the students in the Faculty has always culminated in a presentation of art works through display procedures. It is not an organized public exhibition. The Press information about the presentation of works was not issued by the Faculty/University. There are no invitations, no inauguration or any press note.
How does a private SMS which could be sent by people in their private capacity constitute evidence that the presentation of works at the Faculty of Fine Arts was a ‘public exhibition’?
University Claim: These citizens noticed that some of the works of Art displayed at the Faculty were highly deplorable.
One of the so-called work of Art was a huge Christian Cross where Lord Jesus Christ was shown with his penis out on the Cross, his palms and feet hanging from the two sides and the bottom of the Cross, respectively. Semen was shown as dropping out of his penis into a real toilet commode placed beneath the Cross. The toilet contained fishes.
Another very large sized painting showed a woman in nude posture. A baby was shown as attempting to come out of the vagina of the women. The picture depicted the women trying to attack the baby with a Trishul. The painting had the words “DURGA MATA” written at the bottom.
Similarly Lord Shiva and Lord Visnhu were also depicted in a highly derogatory manner in other so-called works of Art.
Response: The above descriptions of the works are repugnant and visually illiterate. It proves that a naïve verbal description of a work of art is inadequate to its understanding. It is appalling that the University authorities would indulge in such paraphrasing of works of art and would offer such crude and obscene readings of the images concerned. Regarding the image of a suffering Jesus on the Cross, the work is not figurative but symbolic. It can be interpreted to mean several things: one among them could be that the suffering of Christ on the cross has led his body to a condition of utter dissolution, turning Him into a fleshless state symbolized by water (fluids of the body). As His body drains into a receptacle (a modern commode) it takes its form as new life of elementary creatures (fish). In fact, the theme of water flowing out from the body of Christ after his crucifixion by those who disapproved of his ideas is mentioned in the Bible and is a revered part of the story that is read out in churches all over the world at the remembrance of his death that takes place each year on Good Friday. Also the themes of suffering, sacrifice and regeneration are key themes in most world philosophies and religions. Nothing could be more atrocious than the reading made by the University authorities of the water dripping from the cross as ‘semen’.
In the context of the second work described by the University authorities, it might be pertinent to note that images of naked birth-giving goddesses are entirely part of Indian religious iconography (Ref: Gopinatha Rao, Hindu Iconography; 3 vols). Here, in this painting, the courageous Goddess Durga is enacting the crime of foeticide (a practice routinely followed in patriarchal societies) in order to call attention to the horror and violence of the act that amounts to murder in the very womb. The overwhelming motif underwriting this piece of work is that of birth and death. Here the Devi is seen giving birth not to a baby child as the untrained eyes of the University authorities claim but she is actually giving birth to a fully grown man and is attempting to kill him in the process. The anger of the goddess is obviously directed against men as she safeguards the processes of fertility. We know that the killing of the girl child has become a rampant practice in our time to an extent that we are daily confronted with governmental campaigns to ‘save the girl child’. It is therefore quite possible to locate these artworks in the conditions of our present times. There are innumerable instances where, when confronted with the crisis in a society, artists have often recalled traditional iconographic representations to offer critiques of evil practices in their present society.
In the iconographical vocabulary of Indian art traditions, the Durga image is available in multiple forms, ranging from the benign to more wild forms. It is just that our eyes are used to seeing the pleasant forms of the goddess. The Vice Chancellor’s reading shows that there is a massive loss of memory of her wilder forms. In fact, in our religious literatures such as the Devi Mahatmya, Chandi Purana and Shiva Purana, the Goddess Durga is described in most ferocious terms, often without clothes, killing demons, drinking their blood and wearing the heads of the demons as garlands. There is a enormous archive of visual as well as textual material representing the sexual union of Shiva and Shakti. Apart from these widely known brahminical forms of Durga, there are numerous forms of the Goddess in various names and forms in folk and tribal traditions where the Goddess is worshiped in her most fierce form. The graphic work by the student draws its visual vocabulary from such a rich repertoire of visual and textual traditions and practices in India. It draws elements from a long tradition of Durga iconographies in order to express the rage of the mother goddess over all who in our time commit the heinous crime of female foeticide.
Here, we are not arguing that the readings that we offer are the only possible readings. We only want to point out that works of art by virtue of their special character allow multiple interpretations and is a matter for discussion. Why are the University authorities quick to endorse the reading of these art works as proposed by right wing ideologues? If these are the citizens on whose behalf the University takes a stand, what about all the citizens who would like to see alternative readings of these art works? The University should be a place allowing for contestation and debates over meaning and frameworks of seeing.
University claim: The media had already arrived by this time and were witnessing and recording / photographing the events that followed.
Response: The speed with which the police and the media arrived just after Mr. Niraj Jain’s intrusion into the display site shows that the whole incident was well orchestrated and preplanned to get maximum political mileage out of such an unfortunate act. In fact, the media was called by Niraj Jain and his associates.
University Claim: When the group of citizens led by Mr. Niraj Jain, as per his letter, protested and requested the student who had created these so-called works of Art to remove these objectionable works of Art from public display, the student refused to do so.
Response: There was no question of any request or legitimate protest; they came with the police and media, without Faculty or University permission and disrupted examination proceedings for cheap political mileage. They stormed into the examination hall shouting slogans, using abusive language and pushed and pulled the students around. They manhandled Mr. Chandramohan and his friend who was helping him in the display process. With the help of police, both of them were taken away. They were then detained in police custody. Later, due to strong student protest they released the other boy (Mr. Venkat Rao of Andhra Pradesh). These events have been extensively covered by both local and national media.
University Claim: Again the group of citizens requested Professor Panniker, the then in-charge Dean of the Faculty to intervene and get those objectionable works of art removed from public display. Professor Panniker refused to do so.
Response: Mr. Niraj Jain and associates did not ‘request’ Professor Shivaji Panikkar, to take down the work; rather they threatened and abused him and other staff members with dire consequences. This can be corroborated by media footage which clearly shows Professor Shivaji Panikkar being pushed around by Niraj Jain. They did not give Professor Shivaji Panikkar a chance to inquire into the matter or consult with the Head of the Graphics Department or any other Faculty member. All this happened after the student was whisked away by the police at the behest of Mr. Niraj Jain.
University Claim: The protest was entirely peaceful and verbal. No damage was caused to the property of the University. No injury whatsoever was caused to any person.
Response: The protest by Niraj Jain was neither peaceful nor merely verbal. Even a cursory look at the media coverage and footage would prove the contrary. The question is how the University authorities can make the blatant claim that the so called protest was ‘entirely’ peaceful and verbal when an enquiry into the incident is pending and the report awaited. We are therefore compelled to conclude from such declarations that the University authorities have already exonerated Mr. Niraj Jain and his associates thus preempting the enquiry in their favor.
University Claim: On the request of the then in-charge Dean, the University officials arranged for police reinforcement with a request to provide necessary protection. The police promptly arrived at the venue.
Response: This is incorrect chronology. The police had already arrested student Chandramohan by then. During this arrest, the police neither took permission from authorities at the Faculty or at the main University. Professor Shivaji Pannikar had kept the University authorities informed of the developments telephonically, and the decision to call in the police was taken by the University authorities, as they claim. Even though the Dean had informed the Vice Chancellor and other authorities of the events taking place on campus, no help was forthcoming from their side. None of the higher authorities visited the Faculty. The University authorities (i/c Registrar MM Beedkar) came to the Faculty 5 hours after the incident had taken place, only to oversee the sealing process of the ‘objectionable’ art works. The University authorities had been apprised of this by the i/c Dean. During all this time, Mr. Niraj Jain was playing a terror game with the traumatized faculty staff and student fraternity without any hindrance. There was no attempt by the University authorities to protect staff and students from the offensive language and violent behavior of Mr. Niraj Jain and associates.
University Claim: After a very long and consistent persuasion, those objectionable works of art were removed and placed in a room, which was locked and sealed by the police on the basis of a complaint filed by Mr. Niraj Jain and in concurrence with the provision of relevant Law.
Response: The police ACP, T. R. Parmar ordered that the offending five works be taken down and sealed. This was communicated to the Vice Chancellor. Indeed, there were discussions between the police and the i/c Dean, but this concerned the modalities of sealing and the safety of the works. Even after the police arrived and ordered the removal of the ‘offensive’ pictures Niraj Jain and his associates roamed freely in the campus threatening staff and students alike threatening to tear down the works and vandalize them. The in-charge Registrar, Mr. Beedekar arrived only towards the end of the sealing process.
University Claim: None of the so-called works of art was damaged in any manner.
Response: The works have been dismantled from frames and roughly rolled.
University Claim: On the basis of a police complaint filed by Shri Niraj Jain in his individual capacity as a citizen, the student – Mr. Chandra Mohan, who had created those objectionable works of Art was arrested by police under relevant legal provisions. The University authorities deputed an official to provide all the possible help to the student.
Response: Police did not ask permission to enter the campus from either Faculty or University authorities. As PVC had informed Faculty members on an earlier occasion, even police cannot enter the University campus without permission. This violation of rules by the police as well as the consistent refusal of the University authorities to file FIR against Niraj Jain for unlawful entry and disruption of examinations suggests collusion. With regard to the student, NO help whatsoever has been provided to him by the University. University Claim: Subsequently, the University received a high number of representations and memoranda from several organizations, groups, individuals of high repute and common people from a cross section of society strongly urging the University officials to intervene and disallow the exhibition of such works of art that deeply hurt and offend the sentiments of Faith of various communities.
Response: If so, why didn’t the University authorities communicate this to the Faculty and ask for a report which is the prescribed procedure? It may also be noted that prior to the unlawful intrusion into the university premise and the disruption of the smooth functioning of the examination by Mr. Niraj Jain and his violent associates, Professor Shivaji Panikkar who was the i/c Dean had no inkling about complaints made about any part of the examination display. If the authorities were in possession of such information, earlier to the i/c Dean as it has been clearly stated in the report, not informing the Dean is a criminal negligence on the part of the University authorities.
University Claim: Thus, with a view to respect the sentiments of Faith of very large communities, as well as honoring the University’s social sensitivity and responsibility, the University officials including the Pro-Vice Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor requested Professor S. K. Panniker, the then in-charge Dean of the Faculty several times to wind-up the exhibition.
Response: There was no need to give a verbal order to close down the examination display, [the ‘exhibition’ according to University authorities]. It was already closed down by the students themselves who were now busy writing complaints and pleas to the police and university authorities. Since Niraj Jain had arrived with the media who had covered the entire episode, news had spread across Baroda and the country. There were concerned calls from all over the country but not a word of concern by the University about the students who were being terrorized by the goons who the VC calls respectable citizens.
University Claim: Since the exhibition had already hurt the sentiments of Faith of very large societies, the then in-charge Dean of the Faculty was also requested to issue a statement expressing at least regret and apology over such unintentional consequence of the exhibition. During such meetings of the Pro-Vice Chancellor and the Vice Chancellor with Professor Panniker, the then in-charge Dean, his colleagues were also present.
Response: The i/c Dean was called to the University office the next Day (10 May) where he was asked to tender a public apology. This was discussed in a staff student meeting at the Faculty. There was complete consensus that any public apology offered without active support to the Faculty and concrete actions against the intruders by the University authorities would be equivalent to abandoning the interests of students and giving tacit encouragement to vandalism inside the University campus. Therefore, it was decided that all legal help should be provided to Chandramohan and that an FIR be lodged against Mr. Niraj Jain. A memorandum to this effect was submitted to the University authorities.
Significantly the VC’s account of the ‘Truth’ of the incidents at Faculty of Fine Arts makes no mention of the memorandum signed by all the staff members of the Faculty. Moreover, the manner in which these decisions were taken shows that the i/c Dean, far from acting in an arbitrary manner, took all his actions in consultation with staff and students of the Faculty, and in their support.
It is very pertinent to note that the i/c Dean had in fact expressed, along with other staff and students regret for inadvertent and unintentional hurt caused to any member of public. This expression was carried in the memorandum given by the Faculty members to the University. Why has the VC consistently refused to look into the legitimate demands of the Faculty, even though the examinations were disrupted by the entry of Niraj Jain and associates?
University Claim: The then Faculty in-charge Dean, unfortunately, did not heed these requests. Regrettably, adding fuel to the fire, he made such offending public statements, which further hurt and flared up the common citizens’ feelings demanding strong action. In one such statements printed by the media, for instance, Professor Panniker, the then in-charge Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, is quoted as saying that the Faculty of Fine Arts is like his personal bedroom and therefore, he is free to do whatever he desires there! Thus, the protest of the citizens of the city grew manifolds. Consequently, there was a huge public outcry from a cross section of society including the students of the University, demanding strong action in the matter.
Response: Professor Shivaji Panikkar’s statement to the media has been misquoted and further distorted by the VC. Professor Shivaji Panikkar told the media that the University is like a private space and that the general public cannot enter and comment on examination work; he used a metaphor to suggest that such an act by the ‘public’ is like barging into a private bedroom. It is very important to remember that the i/c Dean in consultation with his staff members had, in fact, issued a press statement expressing regret for inadvertent and unintentional hurt caused to any member of public. The press statement issued by the Faculty on 10th May 2007 says: “In the unfortunate circumstances of any published image, seen out of context, has caused hurt to anybody, it is regretted”
University Claim: As if this was not enough, in sheer defiance of the University officials requests and even executive orders, on 11th May 2007, once again, the then in-charge Dean, organized an exhibition in the evening displaying nude paintings in the name of an Indian culture!
Response: Professor Shivaji Panikkar did not organize any exhibition. The exhibition on Indian Tradition was organized by the students on their own initiative. It was a civilized and silent protest against the arrest of their fellow student, disruption of examination process by outside forces, their continuing presence in the faculty premises and the apathy of University authorities. By then, Chandramohan had been in jail for 3 days and students were feeling helpless. The exhibition was put together to educate the general public and the press about the long tradition of the nude present in Indian culture.
The exhibition was more of an illustration from works that students are supposed to study and be familiar with through their course work. These were images copied (Xeroxed) from scholarly books on Hindu sacred art along with the European traditions, drawn from academic curriculum of the Art History Department and used daily to teach the iconography and aesthetics of traditional Indian art. These cannot be termed as a display of “nude paintings”. Here, it is also important to note that far from saying he would arbitrarily refuse to follow authorities, the i/c Dean said that he need not ask for permission from the VC to support a peaceful illustrative exhibition mounted by the students drawing on artworks which are an integral part of their Art Historical curriculum that is approved by Board of Studies and the University Syndicate. This is deliberate distortion of facts by the University authorities.
University Claim: Since this unwarranted act of the then in-charge Dean could have sparked large-scale social disharmony and caused disruption, the University Authority deputed two Deputy Registrars and one Assistant Registrar for requesting the in-charge Dean Prof. Panniker, for not organizing the said exhibition. When these officials reached the Faculty and spoke to the then in-charge Dean, he refused point blank to stop the display and reacted that he was not required to take permission of anybody including University Authority for doing anything in the Faculty.
Upon this, the Authority deputed Registrar-in-charge with a written order directing the in-charge Dean to close the display. After acknowledging the letter of the Registrar-in-charge after a lot of dilly-dallying, Prof. Panniker adamantly continued on his stand of not closing the display and said he would keep the display open throughout the night and disobey the University authority’s lawful orders.
In spite of such disobedient behaviour of the then in-charge Dean, the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor S. M. Joshi, along with the Senate and Syndicate members and leading citizens of the city went personally to the Faculty premises and repeatedly requested the in-charge Dean to close the display. Even then, the then in-charge Dean remained adamant and refused to heed the requests / orders of the Pro-Vice Chancellor.
Response: The report has given a long account of repeated orders and requests that were not ‘obeyed’. We would like to know since when did the verbal orders become official documents in this University. This, in a University where even the pettiest of official work is done through writing, through proper channel and procedures! That apart, we must consider the reasons for the i/c Dean’s action: The argument put forward by the Dean was that the students had sought the help of the University authorities a number of times. Since students felt that there was no help coming from the University authorities, the Dean was in no position to order the students to stop the exhibition. The students were already feeling morally oppressed and any order to stop the exhibition at that point would have led to a flashpoint in the Faculty. The Dean reiterated that he would stand by the students and staff. The authorities then sealed the exhibition and the Regional Documentation Center.
Why was the i/c Dean not asked for an explanation before he was unilaterally suspended? Why has the University acted in such unseemly haste to suspend him barely 2 hours after the sealing up of the Regional Documentation Centre and before Professor Shivaji Panikkar could even consider tendering his resignation as Dean? Why were there no attempts to talk to the students or staff? Why have the University authorities in a move that has no parallel in contemporary India sealed the documentation center at the Faculty? The fact that students and staff have stood behind Professor Shivaji Panikkar is an index of the loyalty and trust that he commands in the Faculty. This is evident in the mass CL taken by ALL the staff members and from the memorandum that they submitted in full support to the i/c Dean and the student protests over the last few days.
University Claim: The Faculty of Fine Arts is an integral part of the prestigious The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, known for its substantial contribution in placing Gujarat & Baroda on international cultural scene, and as such cannot be left solely on the whims & wishes of any one individual.
Response: It is very gracious of the report to acknowledge the importance of the Faculty of Fine Arts. It surely cannot be left solely on the whims and wishes of any one individual. But the question is can the running of such a prestigious Faculty be left to the hostile and punitive University authorities?
University Claim: In the event of the adamant refusal of the then in-charge Dean to heed the repeated requests from the University officials and his blatant refusal to obey lawful orders of the University officials and that too in such grave matter of hurting the sentiments of decency and societal harmony, the University had no other option but to suspend the in-charge Dean, Prof. S. K. Panniker from the University services for three months with immediate effect under the rules of the University.
Response: The University has paid no attention to the legitimate grievances of the Faculty of Fine Arts, nor has given the authorities in the Faculty a chance to explain the situation, nor have spoken to the students on this matter. On the other hand it has been overenthusiastic in supporting the allegations and interpretations of Niraj Jain and associates over that of Faculty members. University authorities have completely refused to file FIR against Niraj Jain for unlawful entry and disruption of examinations. The University has not taken any steps to provide legal help to Chandramohan the student. Rather it has suspended the i/c Dean Professor Shivaji Panikkar for taking steps to protect the Faculty of Fine Arts and to redress the grievances of its students. This suggests collusion by the University with Niraj Jain and associates in this shameful episode.
University Claim: The University authority has constituted a committee headed by Professor Syed Maswood, Dean Faculty of Law, with clear terms of reference for investigating entire matter in detail, identify all person/s responsible for this incidence, and recommend appropriate action under rules of the University.
Response: The Chancellor of the University has expressed concern at the nature of the Committee constituted by the Vice Chancellor to probe the issue. (TOI, May 19, 2007) Reports say that “The committee’s composition has come under severe criticism from several quarters as many believe that the members would go by the administrations view regarding the entire episode.” (TOI, May 19, 2007)
University Claim: The Chancellor of the University, Her Excellency Dr. Mrunalini Devi Puar, has publicly condemned such exhibition depicting divine personalities in derogatory manner.
Response: The invocation of the Chancellor’s remarks is only partial. In fact, from the beginning she has expressed concern over the intrusion of outside forces in the University affairs. Recently, she has also expressed her distress over the composition of the Committee instituted by the University to enquire into the incidence leading to the suspension of the i/c Dean Professor Shivaji K Panikkar.
In addition to a very large number of social organizations and common people, the leading citizens including Maharaja Ranjitsingh Gaekwad, Padmashri Sitanshu Mehta, Renowned Painter Shri Gulam Mohmmed Sheikh, Professor Dhruv Mistry, renowned Sculptor, Noted Poet Madhav Ramanuj and several distinguished personalities have issued public statements condemning the exhibition of objectionable works of Art that caused deep hurt to the sentiments of Faith of a very large society.
Response: The truth is that there has been widespread condemnation of the attack on the artist and the i/c Dean from all over the country. While many distinguished personalities have sought to understand the turn of events in the Faculty of Fine Arts, their remarks on the issue cannot be construed as a ‘condemnation’. For example, we know for a fact that Professor Gulammohammed Sheikh by no means expressed condemnation but rather supported the student and the i/c Dean as well as the courageous stand of the Faculty of Fine Arts. Even Padmashri Sitanshu Mehta has condemned the attack on art works and has expressed his concern over the nature of protest. In fact, the remarks made by these distinguished personalities call for debates around issues of art and sentiments of faith.
A University should be a place providing for critical thinking around issues concerning civil society and curricular freedom and the autonomy of educational institutions. In fact, the significant support, received by Professor Shivaji Panikkar has to be seen in the light of his defense of the University as a critical space where thought and ideas are nourished and nurtured. Debates on works of art in a free manner are essential to a critical democratic culture and the function that art performs within it. We would like to reiterate this point especially in the context of a long tradition of artistic and academic integrity at the Faculty. Instead, the University authorities have allowed the University space to be held hostage by a handful of local politicians who do not have any respect for civilized debate and concern for the reputation of the University.
Steps Taken to Restore Normalcy
University Claim: 01. The Security, particularly in the Faculty of Fine Arts, has been enhanced right from 09 May 2007. The Security personnel are ensuring that only those students and Members of the University fraternity are allowed entry inside the Faculty Campus who hold valid identity card or authentic identity document. Due care is also taken not to put genuine visitors to any inconvenience. The campus is totally peaceful.
Response: This claim of the University is absolutely misleading and is not based on any factual evidence. About 50 people came inside the Faculty premises on 13 May and tried to disrupt the silent protest-sit-in-dharna by the students and staff members of the Faculty with provocative slogans. Moreover the media was always allowed into the campus. It was allowed every day and has been reported by all the news media. The security measures in fact came into force only on the 14th of May when eminent citizens, alumni of the Faculty and artists from across the country converged to show their solidarity. The so called security measures were only part of attempts to put hurdles to a peaceful convergence of concerned citizens from all walks of life.
University Claim: 02. The Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts, Professor Deepak Kannal is on leave and is currently in the U.S.A. on an academic assignment. He has been requested to pre-pone his return to India and is likely to resume his duties at the earliest possible.
Response: It is such an irony that Professor Deepak Kannal, Dean of the Faculty, who is on an academic assignment in the US has now been asked to cut short his schedule to clean up the mess that the University authorities have created at the Faculty of Fine Arts.
University Claim: 03. Since during the absence of the regular Dean, none of the senior members of the Faculty was willing to take the charge of the Faculty, Professor G. C. Maheshwari, Dean Fculty of Management Studies has been appointed as the Officer on Special Duty in-charge of the Faculty of Fine Arts till the Dean Professor Deepak Kannal resumes his duties.
Response: The very fact that no senior Faculty members were willing to take charge of the Faculty shows the unity among the staff members of the Faculty of Fine Arts and their faith in Professor Shivaji Panikkar and his rightful actions. The Faculty stood by Professor Shivaji Panikkar in all his actions, even at the time when i/c Registrar Mr. Beedkar came with a written order from the University Authorities to close down the exhibition of Indian Traditions, it was not just Professor Shivaji Panikkar but all the Staff Members signed and received the order to show that the decision about the exhibition was not just a whimsical act of any one individual but a careful decision taken by the staff collective considering the nature and the manner of the organized illustrative exhibition.
University Claim: 04. The results of the examinations of the Department of Museology, one of the six departments of the Faculty of Fine Arts, is declared. All the possible steps are being taken as to the conduct of the examination and the declaration of the results at the earliest possible.
Response: The Museology Department has a separate Academic Council and has less than seven students for their MA level Examination. All the other five Departments of Faculty of Fine Arts have a single Board of Studies and all the students in these Departments have Art History and Aesthetics as a compulsory paper for the Degree Program. The unfortunate action taken by the University Authorities to seal this Department has led to the further disruption of examination procedures. The entire examination papers of students are stuck inside the Department. Besides, Professor Shivaji K. Panikkar teaches and evaluates maximum number of papers for MA level students and as the Head of the Department he oversees the examination/evaluation of papers. His suspension from the post of i/c Dean and banning of his entry into the University premises has stalled the evaluation work. Some papers come under specialized category and only a person of Prof. Panikkar’s expertise and experience can evaluate them. Till today the University has hardly taken any measure to resolve the deadlock.
University Claim: 05. A committee of the following members is constituted on 12 May 2007 to investigate about:
(i) the incidence that occurred in the Faculty of Fine Arts on 09 May 2007 and subsequent developments related to it, and
(ii) the role, conduct and behaviour of Professor S. K. Panikkar, the then in-charge Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts with regard to the above referred incidence and frame charges against him.
01. Professor Syed Maswood, Dean, Faculty of Law, Convener
02. Dr. Prakash Shah, (M.D.), Syndicate Member, Member
03. Shri Mukundbhai Shah, Syndicate Member Member
04. Advocate Shri Rajendra Trivedi, Senate Member Member
The Convener is authorized to co-opt any other member(s) or invite artists for consultation.
The Committee is requested to submit its report at the earliest possible.
The Terms of Reference of the Committee will be as follows:
01 To ascertain the facts and evidences about the incidence that occurred in the Faculty of Fine Arts on 09 May 2007 and subsequent developments related to it.
02 To examine the role, conduct and behaviour of Professor S. K. Panikker, In-Charge Dean, Faculty of Fine Arts with regard to the above referred incidence.
03 To identify person(s) responsible for the incidence and subsequent developments related to it, and recommend appropriate action(s) with regard to those responsible.
Response: The nature of the Committee and the political affiliations of most of the Committee members are already known to the public through media reports. It exposes the intention of the University authorities and raises serious doubts about the inquiry procedures and the possible outcome. The Faculty of Fine Arts has a long and illustrious history and has alumni which is known world over. An inquiry into the incidence which involves art works does not have a permanent member who comes from a Fine Arts background. The Honorable Chancellor Mrunalinidevi Puar has also publicly expressed her dismay over the legitimacy and credibility of the Inquiry Committee (TOI, 19th May 2007, Front Page).
Administration of a university involves the application of rules and regulations that are crucial to the everyday functioning of the institution. In such a situation, it is of fundamental importance that the university practices its regulative function wisely and in a manner that keeps in view the customary practices of all its Faculties. The action of the administration riding roughshod over the Fine Arts Faculty's customary functioning is a clear instance of loss of administrative wisdom and failure of administrative competence. In such a situation, what needs to be judged is the whole set of actions and reactions, including the high-handedness of the Vice Chancellor and his administration. It is for this larger reason that the very act of the Vice Chancellor setting up an inquiry committee needs to be challenged.
All through his position paper, the Vice Chancellor has clearly endorsed all the sentiments and opinions of Mr Jain. He has already prejudged the matter even before hearing from the University’s own inquiry committee. The closed mindedness displayed by the Vice Chancellor and other University authorities forebodes the dismantling of academic and scientific values of careful and unbiased investigation. Their actions seem to have no respect for the democratic ideals of discussion and debate that have contributed to the rise of this university to its present status.
In the given situation, we demand that the inquiry be conducted on broader lines by an impartial national body. We also demand that the Vice Chancellor be disallowed from any further involvement in this issue.
ASSOCIATION OF ARTISTS, ACADEMICS AND CITIZENS FOR UNIVERSITY AUTONOMY (AAACUA)
We have a tradition of challenging norms to make sure art and ideas don't degenerate into a source of mere comfort. Even the article you sent points out that we know to take such things in our stride. On the other hand, physical force as a means of settling differences has never been a part of who we are.
Any assertion that dismantling an exhibition and assaulting an artist protects our culture or tradition is disingenuous. You know that.
Threaded to this message are a couple of eloquent rejoinders that you might want to consider. No doubt you have come across many more. At the heart of all the rhetoric is the hope that you will find the courage to do the right thing.
Exhibition brings beautiful photographs-and controversy
by John Shea, Compass manager
The colors in the large photograph are mostly reds and oranges, conveying an unexpected warmth to a familiar subject: Christ on the cross. The crucifix itself is bathed in golden highlights. The contours and edges of the crucifix are softened, and in fact the right extension of the crossbar tends to disappear into the deep orange background. On the surface of the print are clusters and streaks of tiny bubbles. Many observers would find the photograph gorgeous, even reverent. Its name: "Piss Christ."
"Andres Serrano: Works 1983-1993," which opened at the University's Institute of Contemporary Art last weekend, did not slip into Philadelphia unnoticed. Jeremy Chiappetta, a senior in the College and president of Penn's Newman Council of Roman Catholic students, was quoted in a Daily Pennsylvanian article expressing his outrage at the display of "Piss Christ." He also spoke at the November meeting of University Council, arguing that "this exhibition has detrimentally affected the climate" of the campus.
Last week, Chiappetta was one of the authors of a D.P. opinion piece about the photograph-and the University's exhibiting of it. Chiappetta and Elizabeth Broadwell, a Penn graduate student, argued that the University had taken prompt action when swastikas appeared in the Graduate Towers; yet Penn "has not shown similar respect for sensibilities outraged by an exhibit which was brought here with University approval."
Responding to Chiappetta at the University Council, Provost Stanley Chodorow said there was "a fundamental difference between a graffito and a work of art." He also maintained that Penn does provide for discussion of such controversial topics. Members of the graduate and undergraduate student governments offered to help stage discussions.
The Daily Pennsylvanian weighed in with an editorial that conceded the feelings that Serrano's work often provokes. On the other hand, the editors argued, "Freedom of expression is a basic, universal right, and the University, as a center for the study and comparison of conflicting ideas, should preserve that right at all costs." The editorial concluded by supporting both the I.C.A.'s right to mount the exhibition-and the right of people on campus to protest against it.
And that was exactly what happened last Friday evening: the Institute of Contemporary Art opened its doors for a private showing for its members and the press, while outside an estimated 50 people held a candlelight procession of protest, carrying a seven-foot cross of their own.
Provoking an ambivalent response
One of the questions viewers may ask themselves in looking at "Piss Christ" (1987) is whether their response to the photograph is determined largely by the title. It is hard to imagine the photograph provoking the same kind of outrage unless the circumstances behind it are known. As described in the exhibition catalogue, "This work presents a thirteen-inch-high, wood-and-plastic crucifix placed in a four-gallon, eighteen-by-twelve inch Plexiglas holding tank filled with the artist's own urine, which he had saved for several weeks."
Patrick Murphy, director of the I.C.A., defended the photograph last Friday, calling it "a convincing work of art" and "very moving." Serrano, he argued, has paradoxically elevated a cheap crucifix by using "a fluid that we consider base." He also pointed out that Serrano did not limit himself to Christian icons. There is also a photograph called "Piss Discus," which makes use of the famous ancient Greek statue of the discus-thrower. In these cases, according to Murphy, the artist has taken "souvenir statuary" and, through "an alchemical combination," created something compelling. (Serrano has also produced photographs using blood, milk, and other bodily fluids.)
Serrano's subject matter varies widely, ranging from what seem to be formal exercises of color and form to portraits. But the formal exercises often trigger more than aesthetic responses. "Blood Cross" (1985), for example, features a stark red cross against a background that recalls, according to the gallery card, "dreamlike theater sets." Sharp lines, formal shapes-but the cross seems to be leaking or dripping blood.
Similarly, with "Colt D.A. 45" (1992), it takes a moment to move from an appreciation of the formal, even abstract shape to realize that the hole one is staring into is in the extremely foreshortened barrel of a handgun.
The unconventional portraits feature members of the Ku Klux Klan and the Roman Catholic Church as well as street people - all somewhat apart from everyday society. In the case of the Klansmen, the photographs reveal traces of humanity in the imperfect stitching of the robes or the glimpse of an eye through an eyehole. Given the narrow palette of colors and the stark contrasts, the series moves almost into abstraction.
And, in a time when many people have grown numb from the deaths and atrocities reported on the news, Serrano's series of photographs in a morgue forcefully compel viewers to confront the reality of death. The photographs are in some way beautiful - even while they make the stomach flutter. The morgue series looks back in some ways to one of Serrano's early photographs, "Cabeza de Vaca" (1984). Here, a cow's head is mounted on a pedestal, looking, as the catalogue puts it, both "absurd and haunting."
The mission of the I.C.A.
Does an exhibition like Serrano's, which is likely to offend some viewers, have a place at a major research university? In words and actions, Chiappetta has argued that it does not. Murphy disagrees.
"We are a part of this academic institution, and I think original research is a very important part of that," he said Friday. "I see I.C.A. in some way chronicling the art of our time. To a great extent, we're like the avant garde of art history. We are documenting these artists in a very scholarly and intense way, both from the point of view of theory and the point of view of history. And so we're fulfilling the research mission of the University at the I.C.A."
Murphy added that this and other shows also fulfill "our other mission, which is the educational one. We make a number of programs around this exhibition-to give people access to our thinking about the exhibition, also to give people access to the artist, and to give them access to debate about this issue, which is our job." (Programs related to the Serrano show will be coming up in December and January, including an interview with the artist conducted by Murphy on December 7. For information, call 898-7108.)
"There is a lot of meat in this exhibition, and some people won't like it at all," Murphy continued. "But I think that in all cases, what it asks you to do is to meet with it and to sometimes argue against it and sometimes be moved with it."
Murphy noted that no federal or public funding was used to support "Andres Serrano: Works 1983-1993." As he put it, Murphy did not want the exhibition to become "a cause celebre," alluding to the controversy because the National Endowment for the Arts had funded work by people like the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and the performance artist Karen Finley.
The I.C.A. exhibition and the catalogue were made possible by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; private donors; and the board, friends, and members of the Institute of Contemporary Art.
Closing at the I.C.A. on January 15, 1995, the exhibition will travel to the New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York); the Center for the Fine Arts (Miami); the Contemporary Art Museum (Houston); and the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago).
Tuesday 22 May 2007
My statement printed below, the only one issued by me on 11 May 2007 on the recent events in Baroda is self-explanatory about my unequivocal position on the issues concerned. I have not commented on the work of the student in question, verbally or in print and have not issued the statement or comments attributed to me in the Report circulated by the M.S.University
In my opinion the Acting Dean Prof Shivaji Panikker supported by the staff of the Faculty has acted responsibly in this matter, upholding the best academic and administrative traditions of the Faculty of Fine Arts and the M. S. University and his suspension should be revoked without any preconditions.
19 May 2007
Statement issued on 11. 05. 2007
You must have known through media reports that Chandra Mohan, a student from the Department of Graphics at the Fine Arts College in Baroda has been arrested on 9th of May 2007 for making an allegedly controversial painting depicting nude figures with some religious motifs. The arrest followed the storming of the university premises by a group of outsiders. The work in question was part of a display in the college premises for assessment by a team of examiners for a Master’s degree in Fine Arts. Charged with sections 153 and 114 as well as sections 295 A and 295 B, he has been denied bail and is presently in Central Jail, Baroda.
In a civilized society any dispute on a controversial depiction or content of a work of art can be dealt with through dialogue and consultation with experts in the field rather than left to self-appointed moral police employing coercive means. In the present case, the outsiders taking law into their hands barged into the university campus without prior permission, did not consult or inform the Dean of the Faculty before disrupting the annual examinations in progress. The reports are that they returned again to abuse the Dean and threatened him with dire consequences.
Such an instance of assault on a student by outsiders in the university premises is unprecedented in the history of the Faculty of Fine Arts and must be condemned in no uncertain terms. The Fine Arts College known nationally and internationally for upholding the highest standards of creative and critical practice has also earned reputation for its firm commitment to the freedom of expression. The former authorities of the university like Smt. Hansa Mehta, the very first Vice Chancellor in the fifties up to Prof. Bhikhu Parekh in the eighties have stood by the Faculty and its ideals. The present assault seems to strike at the very ideals on which it was built by pioneering artist-academics and supported by enlightened university authorities. The present administration of the university has not initiated any action against the trespassers or applied for bail for the victimized student. The students and staff of the Fine Arts College have organized a dharna and the Acting Dean, Prof. Shivaji Panikker has planned to undertake a hunger strike in the College premises against the assault on the student and callous attitude of the university authorities
As an alumnus and former teacher of the Faculty of Fine Arts, I fear these developments may imperil the working of an institution which in many ways has formed our lives; and is indeed an integral part of what we are today. I hope all other alumni and teachers as well as concerned artists and intellectuals of the country will come forward to protect it in its moment of crisis when the values it stands for are threatened.
Monday 21 May 2007
date May 21, 2007 2:52 AM
subject your truth is not true.
dear mr. manoj soni,
read your version of truth regarding the recent fine arts fiasco. i would like to request you not to misuse your position by issuing a statement which is partial, biased and misleading.
as an eye witness to the unfortunate events at the fine arts faculty on 9th may,2007,(and afterwards) i have a few things to say.
1. your statement says that "the citizens of vadodara lodged their strong protest" against some of the works by chandra mahon. do you think five/six people represent the citizens of vadodara? were they authorised or deputed by some kind of civic consensus?
it is alarming how loosely you use the term "citizens", making it sound as if the whole vadodara was on one side and the fine arts faculty was on the other side. wish you had some respect for facts. anybody (with an objective view of course) who witnessed the fine arts events from 9th may to 14th may will vouch for the fact that there are more people fighting for the fine arts faculty than people who were fighting against it. are "we" not citizens? or do we need some kind of approval/sanction to become citizens?
2. the news paper report saying that the display was open for public was a news paper report, not an announcement from the faculty authorities inviting general public( unlike fine arts fair, where fine arts faculty invites general public by means of invitation letters, announcements, poster campaign etc.). traditionally the fine arts annual display is open to people who are somehow related to fine arts ( friends and parents of students, artists, ex-students, art lovers etc.), who understand the nuances of art and know that a student's work (whatever the image) displayed within an academic institute can never be so influential as to disturb the fabric of a democratic society.
do you really expect us to believe that mr. niraj jain walked into the faculty as an innocent art lover without any agenda and spoted the so called "objectionable" works just by chance?
you also mentioned that some teachers sent out sms's inviting people for the annual display. i do not know if you use a mobile phone. let me tell you that when you send out group sms, it goes to people who are already on your phone book (meaning friends, family, acquaintances etc.), not to any tom, dick and harry who are out there with a pathetic agenda of civilising a society which is already civilised beyond their grasp.
3. you have twisted the chronology of events to protect people like niraj jain. neither police nor media "arrived" at the faculty. they came with niraj jain. why did he need media and police if he just wanted to express his complain to the concerned student and to the head of the institute?
the-in-charge dean did not ask for police protection as your statement states. he asked your office for protection from both the "concerned citizens" and the police. by the time the in-charge-dean came to know about the incident, the student was already arrested without informing the faculty or university authorities, after being manhandled by niraj jain and his group ( since you seem to base your arguments on media reports, please note that photograph of niraj jain manhandling chandra mohan was published in the news papers).
and when the students went to the police station later that evening to lodge a complain against niraj jain, the police did not even file an f.i.r. what kind of 'relevant legal provision" is this?
4. the in charge dean and faculty members were desperately trying to get in touch with your office. but no help came from the university authorities during the six/seven hours when mr. niraj jain was displaying his concern in the faculty premises. so when you say "university authorities deputed an official to provide all the possible(?!) help to the student", can you specify the date and the time? and if the "official" has any name or rank please? did the university appoint a lawyer (as it should have) so that the student can be released immediately, at least on bail?
5.you found it important to emphasise the point, by printing it in bold letters, that the protest (led by niraj jain) was verbal and peaceful(?!?!), nothing was damaged and nobody was injured. do you think they obliged us by not injuring anyone or by not damaging anything? or do you think they showed great restrain(applaud!) by not employing their usual methods?
6. subsequently, can you tell us how many of these organisations, groups, individuals of high repute ( who " strongly urged the university officials to intervenes and disallow the exhibition of such works") remain after you deduct those who wear the same political colour as mr. niraj jain? or do you have any reason to give more weightage to their side?
7. to ask the victim(the fine arts faculty) to express regret and apology was the height of absurdity beyond any logical understanding. do you think it is normal? do you really think so?
8. what do you mean by "displaying nude paintings in the name of indian culture"? they are part of indian culture. the works displayed(as a protest exhibition) were samples from traditional indian paintings and sculptures, not something created by the in-charge-dean or the students to hurt religious sentiments! we are all proud of our indian culture. you people are different though, ashamed of your own glorious culture and heritage.
9. your statement says "The Faculty of Fine Arts is an integral part of the prestigious The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, known for its substantial contribution in placing Gujarat & Baroda on international cultural scene, and as such cannot be left solely on the whims & wishes of any one individual."
your statement also says that other faculty members were present(in support) in the meeting when the in-charge-dean refused to apologise. try as you may, but the fact you can't deny is that majority of faculty members and students are protesting against the suspension of the in-charge-dean. so there is no question of "whims and wishes of one individual". the faculty of fine arts is an institute of international repute ( as you also mentioned it twice in your statement) because of these people, not because of your bunch of "concerned citizens", nor because of, sorry to point this out, the university authorities.
dr. shivji panikkar is not only a respected teacher, but also a reputed scholar with undisputed integrity and commitment. if some press report says that he compared the fine arts faculty to his bedroom, it is either a creative reporting, or a manipulation to fulfil some vested interest. i don't know which world do you belong to. but there are enough sane people in the society, thank you very much.
10. "The Security, particularly in the Faculty of Fine Arts, has been enhanced right from 09 May 2007. The Security personnel are ensuring that only those students and Members of the University fraternity are allowed entry inside the Faculty Campus who hold valid identity card or authentic identity document. Due care is also taken not to put genuine visitors to any inconvenience. The campus is totally peaceful." this is an utter lie. everybody and anybody could walk into the faculty till 13th may. and the faculty premises was crowded with all kinds of people. otherwise how could "organisations, groups, and individuals of high repute" who complained to you could see the "nude paintings in the name of indian culture" displayed inside the faculty, that too not in the front side but much inside? or did you give them permission to enter the faculty, so that they could complain to you? or was that the "due care" taken for "genuine visitors"? who was in charge of deciding who is a genuine visitor and who was not? the media was present inside the faculty almost round the clock. also one day when the fine arts students were on a sit-out protest, a group of a.b.v.p. members walked into the faculty holding, not i-cards, but placards (and shouting abusive slogans). did your security personal considered the tilak on their forehead as identity proof and let them in?
the issue of identity card and not allowing outsiders(including ex-students and artists, not as "genuine" as some others it seems!) came up only in the evening of 13th may, at 6pm to be precise. so obviously it had nothing to do with security, but insecurity on your part in the wake of the national level protest planed for the next day. the m.s.u. authorities and the police tried their best to stop the national level protest on 14th of may, though failed miserably. what are you scared of if you are right?
only truth in this part of the statement is that the campus is totally peaceful. what you forgot to mention is that it is peaceful not because of the police, or security, or the university authority, but because of the maturity of the fine arts students, teachers and their supporters.
11. mr. niraj jain saw to it that the "objectionable" works get as much publicity as possible, more than chandra mahon could even dream of, by reprinting it , or by describing the images to the media. when the police locked up the works, niraj jain led a group of media persons to take photographs of the images. the police officer in charge tried to stop them, but gave in eventually (niraj jain seems to have some super power). what was the point of removing the works from public view if they were going to be publicised? later that afternoon, when a christian lady was complaining that she could not see the work showing the cross, mr. jain promised her that he will show it to her. if it is simply a question of "hurting public sentiment", who did a greater damage, one who painted it, or one who took it to a wider audience/public ?
the summary of your story is that-
(a) niraj jain is an ideal citizen who is interested in nothing else but peace and harmony in society. and he was duly supported by the citizens of vadodara.
(b) chandra mohan is a criminal, deserved to be arrested (and jailed, if possible).
(c) dr. shivji panikkar is an adamant, arrogant, irresponsible person whose profession is to disobey orders from higher authorities.
(d) the artists, art lovers, academicians, activists and intellectuals from various fields, who stood up for the fine arts students and teachers, have no knowledge of art and culture, let alone social responsibilities. (may be we should take a course on indian art and culture from you and niraj jain?)
now, lets come to the point.
why are you taking so much of effort/trouble to justify some niraj jain, when, on the other hand, you were least bothered when one of your student was arrested, other students and teachers were insulted and terrorised by outsiders inside the university campus? why?
what could be your interest in an academic institution if you are not interested in academic procedure and safety of the students?
i am surprised that you head an institution of such repute as m.s.u. but i guess in today's time, one should not be surprised.
hope you have a reply.