An exhibition of paintings by local artists as a tribute to M.F. Husain on his first death anniversary was cancelled in Pune, following opposition from right-wing outfit Hindu Jan Jagriti Samiti (HJJS).
On June 8, Shivaji Vatkar of the HJJS wrote to organiser and gallery curator Raju Sutar, claiming that Husain had “hurt the religious and national sentiments of crores of Hindus and Indians through his blasphemous paintings of Hindu deities and Bharat Mata,” and hence the exhibition should be stopped. The letter called Husain “anti-national and anti-Hindu.”
Fearing violence, the organisers cancelled the show. The exhibition, ‘Miss you,' was to have been held from June 8 to 16 at the Waves Art Gallery. It would have showcased 19 artists and their works. Husain's death anniversary fell on June 9.
Mr. Sutar said the HJJS argued that the exhibition would have “glorified Husain.” “We decided to go for a silent withdrawal, instead of reacting violently. They didn't expect us to agree with their demands. But we didn't want to glorify them by making a big deal out of the protest,” he told The Hindu on Monday.
He said the artists did not approach the police either. “We did not think it was worth [our while] to take the matter to the police. That would have fed their [the HJJS's] muscles. We want to answer them with intellect and give a creative reply to such an unfortunate protest,” he said.
Mr. Sutar received several threats even after entering into a dialogue with Mr. Vatkar.
The exhibition was Mr. Sutar's way of expressing solidarity with “M.F. Husain sir.” “The culture of intolerance is growing, and there is need to educate people on art and expression. This is what we will be focusing on now,” he said.
In the letter to Mr. Sutar, Mr. Vatkar said Husain's paintings promoted “…enmity among different religious groups” and disturbed “national integrity and harmony.” It said the HJJS was a registered NGO engaged in social, religious and national welfare work.
“The Samiti is active throughout India, educating people about dharma in a scientific way and solving problems in national, religious and social fields,” it said.
The letter went on to list the Samiti's “successful campaigns against M.F. Husain.” It included the cancellation of a film on his life at the Pune International Film Festival this year, and the removal of his paintings from ABN Amro Bank's credit card, and from several art galleries nationwide.
Despite repeated efforts, Mr. Vatkar could not be contacted for comments.