A display at India Art Fair (Screen-grab, Copyrights: IAF)
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Curtains are down for the prestigious India Art Fair. While artworks and artists were largely applauded by media, what did not make news was the crackdown by Delhi police. As the organizers themselves claim, India Art Fair is the leading platform to discover modern and contemporary art from South Asia and a portal to the region’s cultural landscape. 

But the recent intervention by Delhi police shows that the boundaries of art are now laid down by the police and not artists.

When Delhi Police became art curators

India Art Fair undoubtedly is a posh event. Held every year the, Govindpuri area of New Delhi, it attracts many wealthy collectors from around the globe. But this year things were slightly different.

Not far from the venue is where the Shaheenbagh protests were happening, wherein Muslim women have been protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Bill for the past three months. And no wonder, the protest found a place inside the art fair.

Delhi police were agitated by an artwork called “The Wall: Community Art Building Mural” organized by the Delhi-based arts organization Post-Art Project The work apparently took inspiration from the protesting women of Shaheenbagh.

An artist working on The Wall: Community Art Building Mural at the India Art Fair 2020 prior to intervention by the Delhi Police (Screengrab, Copyrights Instagram/@engendereddelhi)

The Post-Art project informed via an Instagram post that the police reached the venue 20 minutes before the performance responding to an “anonymous complaint” which said that the artists were exhibiting images of women in hijabs, and had something written in Urdu.

Once the police left, the organizers were asked to take down the work and shut off the booth.

“We talked of unity, resurgence and solidarity, and women’s leadership,” the booth curator Myna Mukherjee said.

A nationalistic Art Fair

The art fair, this year also had a ban on banners and sloganeering.

“We are aware of events taking place across Delhi NCR and the country. We recognize and support art as a means of expression. However, our license is related to the exhibition of art and related activities only. Therefore, we have a zero-tolerance policy against banners or sloganeering at the fair,” a sign near the entrance read.

Though the IAF management decided this year to turn their back at the turbulent political environment in the country, the artists had found their own ways to express solidarity with the protesting crowd of Delhi.

The Wall: Community Art Building Mural (Screen-grab, Copyrights: Post-Art Project)

Gallery Ske, had exhibited a 2020 untitled series by 15 Indian artists, each of whom have created a work inspired by the Indian constitution.

TARQ, another gallery based in Mumbai had exhibited a photograph by Ronny Sen which shows a young man at a recent citizenship law protest, his chest tattoo reading: “Don’t give me religion, give me food.”

According to The artnewspaper.com, some artists are also donating a part of their sale towards fundraising efforts for the legal fees of the various students who have been physically attacked by right-wing assailants in the past two months.

During inauguration IAF director Jagpal had said: “We’re not an international art fair, we’re a regional art fair and we’re incredibly proud of that.” No art or artist can be proud of doing regional art turning their back on issues that are affecting the common man.

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