But some argue solidarity with Palestine requires speaking through art

In a major show of solidarity with the Palestinian people, five Indian artists have announced their intention of boycotting a major show of Indian art in Israel. The show titled “Deconstructing India” is scheduled to be mounted at the Tel Aviv State Museum in the spring of 2012.

The boycott by Nalini Malani, Anita Dube, Amar Kanwar, Sakshi Gupta and Pushpamala N. is in line with the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel — PACBI – that was launched in 2004 by a group of Palestinian academics and intellectuals. The campaign is supported internationally by John Berger and more than 90 leading authors, film-makers, musicians and performers.

The Indian chapter was formed in June 2010. Vivan Sundaram, Ayisha Abraham and Pushpamala N. were its signatories along with many leading academics and cultural practitioners. The boycott of the Tel Aviv show has been initiated by Ms. Pushpamala, who is trying to garner support from all the invited artists who are still confused and not ready to take a stand as yet.

The theme of the show is as much a cause for concern for the boycotting artists as the venue. "Some artists feel that we should keep cultural spaces separate from politics. However, the curatorial note of “Deconstructing Israel” is itself political. It speaks of colonization, partition of India and creation of Israel which are all political events", says Ms. Pushpamala. "The artists have been chosen because they “deconstruct stereotypes”. We are not deconstructing stereotypes for fun or interior decor, but to make a political, institutional and social critique".

She added that it would be very difficult for Palestinians to see the Indian show as they will have to pass through various blockades and security checks while the Israeli soldiers are given free passes by the Tel Aviv Museum and would form a major part of the audience.

The Indian art fraternity is, however, divided on the boycott. While Bhavna Kakar, gallerist and editor of an art magazine, is showing unconditional solidarity “to validate Palestinian concerns”, Vivan Sundaram, who is not among the artists invited to Tel Aviv, isn’t convinced by the wider boycott. “I endorse Berger’s appeal because the atrocities on Palestinians are so frighteningly inhuman but I don’t understand a blanket boycott on artistic and cultural activities. If the participating artists had these concerns, then they shouldn’t have committed to show their works in the first place. Moreover, artists should make a statement through their works and not by such boycotts.”

Subodh Gupta, who has been invited to participate in the show, echoes Mr. Sundaram’s sentiments. “I have a soft corner for the Palestinians but I am not for boycotting art and culture. If I refuse to show here, I shouldn’t have shown my works at the U.S., U.K. and China either because I disagree with some of their foreign policies. I shouldn’t be showing in India either because the Indian government couldn’t bring our beloved Husain back home before his death. It is mean to be individual in art and I find it rather a most interesting time to fight for Palestinian causes through our works.”

Since the Tel Aviv Museum is state run, the government machineries of Israel and Palestine aren’t refraining from making statements either.

David Goldfarb, Spokesman, Embassy of Israel says matter of factly, “Culture and art are designed to enhance understanding between people and to bring them together. In democratic societies, differences of opinion should be dealt by open discussion and not by avoiding one another. Those who mix art with politics do not in any way help solve the conflict but rather deepen it. Artists should come, show their works, criticize, talk to the media but not keep the conflict going.”

Mr. Goldfarb’s sentiments trigger laughter in Zuhar Hamdallah-Zaid, the Deputy Chief of Mission in the Palestine Embassy here. He asserts, “Israel should give Palestine its due rights. India and Palestine have gone through similar situations. It’s not strange that India is supporting Palestine. Even universities in Britain are boycotting Israel. It has been 18 years that they have been trying to negotiate with us on the issue of a Jewish state. They are taking our land daily. Only a day ago they again killed two Palestinians near Jerusalem. How can they expect that our voices won’t be heard anywhere?”