Visual arts

The two attacks on the Faculty of Fine Arts

Around the same time an annual MSU Baroda Faculty of Fine Arts student exhibition was canceled due to protests against the presentation of a studentanother student was sent to prison for failing to appear at a hearing in a 2018 case which is a consequence of a similar 2007 protest. In both cases, the BJP and affiliated groups such as the VHP led the demonstrations.

But that’s where the similarities end. Where 41-year-old Srilamanthula Chandramohan had found support from faculty and fellow students, no one spoke up for Kundan Yadav, whose works led to protests and thus the suspension of the exhibition by protesters. students, the first having been offline for two years due to the pandemic. . Yadav received a notice of rustication, with show cause notices given to five faculty members.

The FIR against Yadav was actually filed by a sophomore from another campus, who said he saw said artwork and “confronted the student.”

Chandramohan, whose master’s degree in visual arts has been on hold since the 2007 incident, was on a Union government scholarship. Just months before becoming the target of attacks at MSU, he had won the prestigious Lalit Kala Akademi Prize in December 2006 for a work entitled “Remorse”.

He was the first in his farming family to pursue an education, says Shivaji Panikkar, who served as dean in 2007 and was suspended for standing alongside Chandramohan and failing to close the exhibition of appraisal where his allegedly “offensive” works were exhibited.

Meanwhile, MSU has not filed any complaints of violent intrusion on campus or assault in the 2007 or 2022 incidents. In the latter case, Vadodara City Police filed, suo motu, two FIRs against 33 people – including 31 ABVP workers – following demonstrations organized on 5 and 7 May during which police officers were allegedly attacked.

Associate Professor Indrapramit Roy of the painting department says the only difference between the 2007 and 2022 incidents was that Yadav’s work was not on public display. “The image in question this year was not shown to the public…The incident that happened 15 years ago was in the midst of a lot of confusion because departments were doing their own thing… This time there was security at the gate and each studio had a notice in place stating that the assessment was in progress and visitors were not allowed… I believe there is an ongoing investigation into the how the image went viral when it was strictly in the review phase.

MSU Registrar Krishnakumar Chudasma says the exposure could take place after the matter is investigated. “We did not prohibit them from holding the exhibition provided they maintain decorum and follow basic code… The Faculty is free to decide whether to hold the event.”

Even off campus, the mood is that it’s better to be “safe” than sorry. A senior artist admits “the changed atmosphere for public expression”, adding: “A group of strangers break into a faculty with security in place and hold the university to ransom, prompting the decision-making authorities to rusticate a student… The Faculty, knowing full well the times we find ourselves in, should have ensured that controversial works of art were protected and dealt with before they became a point of contention. It is their duty to guide the student… This whole episode is the result of a lack of tact.

Another Vadodara-based artist says, “No artist is trying to offend anyone, just expressing their imagination. But today there is a lot of fear… People want immediate justice when they feel wronged. We cannot argue logically with those who stir up emotions… We are in a period of cultural war and it is imperative to be careful… The Faculty of Fine Arts is always in the eye of the storm because it is, really, the last bastion of freedom of thought. That said, when there are specific works of art that are obviously contentious, they are best taken down to maintain public order.

Roy calls it a “self-initiated” approach for master’s students, instead of “approving” projects in advance. “When a student reports their artwork to us, we give feedback and reviews…We also suggest whether the artwork should be shared in public or not…It is the teachers decision to advise…Students will make images but this can still hurt someone because art is all about interpretation…it can be misinterpreted, especially by people who aren’t exposed to great art.

Yadav’s alleged “offensive” works included newspaper clippings reporting crimes against women in the form of goddesses and Ashoka Stambh. A Masters student in Visual Arts, Sculpture Department, he was arrested by Vadodara police for “deliberate and malicious acts, with intent to outrage religious feelings” and “speaking words, with intent deliberate to hurt the religious feelings of any person”.

Chandramohan had gotten into trouble because of his works on Goddess Durga and Jesus Christ, which were part of the annual appraisal exhibition. He is facing an FIR for “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, etc.” and another for attempted murder and arson in 2018, when he allegedly burned down the VC’s office out of frustration at not getting his track record.

He was arrested on May 10 for missing two hearings in the 2018 case and was released on bail on May 17.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Chandramohan said: “My lawyer (Hirak Ganguly) recently passed away in a car accident and I don’t know which summons I missed.”

MSU Joint Registrar Mayank Vyas said Chandramohan’s degree was withheld due to a 2007 union decision, and no further action has been advised on it since.

A day after protests against Yadav’s work, Chandramohan received an arrest warrant for missing hearings at Vadodara Sessions Court, where the trial is underway in the February 2018 attempted murder and murder case. arson against him for allegedly setting the vice-chancellor of the university on fire. office, out of frustration at MSU’s decision to strip him of his degree. Chandramohan was arrested on May 10 for allegedly skipping court hearings in April and May and released on bail on Tuesday after a neighbor vouched for him. However, the release came a bit too late, and Chandramohan missed another scheduled hearing in the case the same day.

The artist, who supports herself through commissioned artwork on her social media pages, says the journey has been difficult. “It’s been a long time since the incident… But the trial in the 2007 case hasn’t started yet. I haven’t received any invitation to date… My diploma has been withheld. I sell my works through social networks and I also take specific orders from people. It’s enough to last for days…”, he says. Chandramohan remained in Vadodara following court imposed restrictions on leaving Gujarat.

He does not regret the fact. “Yes, I am here mainly because of the bail conditions which prevent me from leaving Gujarat but I have also gotten used to the city now… I have not yet approached the court to be allowed to move because I’m fine anyway…”

Chandramohan’s controversial works of art continue to remain hidden in the lobby of the FFA, where they were exhibited in 2007 – the door sealed with a sheet of plywood, covered in an off-white paint that camouflages the sheet against the wall. Just months before the protest that changed his life, Chandramohan had won the prestigious Lalit Kala Akademi Prize at the 49th National Exhibition in December 2006 for a woodblock print titled Remorse.

In fact, he also won the International Biennial Prize for another work in the Remorse series in 2009 and held his first international solo exhibition in Bangkok, Thailand in 2010. But thereafter he did not found many takers for his woodcuts. Among some of his works already presented so far are The Isolated Man – a headless image of a man with a functional heart, and The Mask – a human figure with a face hidden behind a mask and Two beautiful hearts – a figure of woman with two hearts.

He says, “The Bangkok fair had a good response… My teachers and bandmates have supported my art over the years, but it hasn’t garnered as much interest as it could have…” But he doesn’t. not regret his decision to choose MSU for his master’s degree. Diploma – one he has yet to receive. Chandramohan says, “When I chose the university to pursue my masters degree, I had to choose between Delhi, Kolkata and Vadodara. I wanted to learn screen printing, for which MSU was the best option… I had an MHRD scholarship and I chose Vadodara.

Chandramohan feels lucky to have an art lover for a landlord, who has allowed him to convert part of the rented house into an art studio, where Chandramohan’s works are displayed on a rail system attached to the wall – a huge table with his work spread out in shades of blue and white. Very soon, the artworks will be for sale on his social media pages, from where he has engaged patrons and taken on commissions – mostly Indian printmaking and woodblock prints on paper. Coming from a family of farmers and carpenters from Madanapalle in Andhra Pradesh, Chandramohan was the first of the farming family to seek an education.

His parents, who continue to live in the village, know that he faces legal proceedings. Chandramohan, who lives mostly a secluded life, says, “My parents don’t understand much about art… They know I paint on paper for a living. They know I’m facing legal action, but they don’t know the details. I am the youngest in the family and my older brothers work as carpenters to earn their bread… Since carpentry is in the family, my interest in the art of wood engraving comes from there.

With his next hearing scheduled for May 30, Chandramohan is now looking for a lawyer. The artist says: “I couldn’t find another lawyer because most of them tell me that my case has no chance… I hired a lawyer to formalize the bail procedure after the arrest on May 10, but for the trial in the 2018 case, I am now looking for a lawyer to defend me for justice.