The Naked and the Nude exhibition at the Delhi Arts Gallery at Hauz Khas here, continued on Wednesday amid tight security, even as activists of Durga Vahini and Vishwa Hindu Parishad protested outside. The exhibition was targeted by the Hindutva activists on Monday.
After hours of protest and scuffle with the police on Wednesday, the protesters left the venue with the threat of violence and bigger protests in the weeks to come.
Hours after the gallery’s “first ever exhibition celebrating the presence of the naked body in modern Indian art” opened on Wednesday, around 50 Durga Vahini activists started shouting slogans just outside the barricaded gallery.
Chanting slogans like “Band karo band karo, nanga pradarshan band karo [Stop this display of nudity],” “Hum Bharat ki naari hain, Nangapan nahin sahenge [We are Indian women and will not tolerate nudity]” and “Naari ko vastu na banao [Don’t objectify the woman],” the protesters started pushing the barricade in an attempt to enter the gallery, which led to a scuffle with the police.
VHP activist Simmy Ahuja said her group would continue to protest and ensure that the exhibition was stopped. “We will never tolerate portrayal of women in nude. Delhi should be made more conducive to women especially after the Delhi gang rape case. It is against our culture and sends out the wrong message to the youth, besides women should be portrayed and wear things under the limits of decency.”
Durga Vahini vice-president Kusum Chauhan did not rule out the use of violence to stop the exhibition. “This kind of nudity has to be stopped. And if they don’t then we don’t mind using violence to save our culture. We will make sure that the Bajrang Dal and other wings of VHP come and stop this by hook or by crook.”
The exhibition, which features paintings by Indian artists featuring nudes — both male and female — painted since 1900, opened on February 1.
A score of artists, including Manu Parekh, Ram Rahman, Kanchan Chander and Nilanjana S. Roy, rushed to the gallery to “defend freedom of expression.” Ram Rahman, photographer and artist, said: “It seems that as a nation and a country, we are increasingly becoming Saudi Arabia. If you are offended by these paintings then please don’t go to Kumbh Mela and ghats in Banaras. Our religion is filled with nudity and it has never been an issue because it is perfectly human.”
Referring to the essentially political context of protests against writers, paintings, works of arts and films, writer and critic, Nilanjana Roy asked: “When was the last time that we saw these kinds of protests by normal ordinary citizens and not a political group which has an agenda.”
Besides attacks on freedom of expression, what reportedly worries Ms. Roy more is the process of subtle but more disturbing “internal censorship” — artists increasingly becoming more cautious about expressing their creativity.
The exhibition will continue till March 15.