A special exhibit by artists and Shaheen Bagh women was interrupted by police at the India Art Fair. The works, mainly hand painted posters carried images of people ‘together’, a poster titled ‘Shaheen’, slogans calling for unity and solidarity, posters that talked of the resilience of the women who have held a silent protest at Shaheen Bagh for 50 days. As seen in the image, these were different posters by artists, tied together with threads who reflected the protest at Shaheen Bagh in the national capital. After completion this was to become a sort of a self standing mural.
I was there to spend the day exploring feminist artworks when I arrived at this stall displaying works reflecting the protests at Shaheen Bagh. The police arrived and stalled the installation which was getting ready to go up with the background music “Hum Dekhenge”. However, as they put up the mural with a singing performance of Hum Dekhenge, within a few minutes, the Delhi Police entered the area and suspended the performance and the mural calling it political. The police officials said that they received a complaint saying that the ‘mural is controversial.’
When the police arrived on the scene, they kept asking, “who gave you the permission to display this controversial mural?” Soon after India Art Fair’s Director Jagdeep Jagpal came charging at the curator of the installation, Myna Mukherjee and at some officials from Italian Embassy and rebuked them for “putting up a controversial mural without their knowledge.” However, Mukherjee told Jagpal several times that she had sent detailed information of the entire four-day show well in advance for them to know what the mural would entail.
The police insisted the mural was controversial while the artists noted that their art only talked about resilience and unity. As I filed this report, the organisers insisted the mural had nothing to do with the Shaheen Bagh protests.
Gargie Chandola, co-founder of Postart Project, told SheThePeople, “They don’t even know what they are objecting to because when we showed each and every piece, they said we’ll click pictures and show it to our supervisors. We told them we can explain every artwork to you as there was not even a single mention of anything political, no act, no bill nothing in the mural. We have written songs, poems, depicted women in solidarity and women from all walks of life. One can see representation of women from everywhere including the northeast, marginalized sections, LGBTQ. It is not a political piece, it is an informative piece.”
An artist who worked on the mural but wanted to remain anonymous told SheThePeople, “We were just performing our mural and police came and dismantled it. There is no word in it or artwork that’s political. They heard the nazm that a singer was singing in the background, “Hum Dekhenge” by Faiz Ahmed Faiz but apart from that we didn’t say or do anything. This is the position of the country right now that whatever little we do, our mouths are shut down. There is no freedom to do anything, and anything we say, our voices are curtailed. We apparently live in a democratic country and our Constitution gives us the freedom of speech and expression but is there really any freedom?”
The organisers in an email to SheThePeople further clarified, “The mural was a community building mural and talked about unity and solidarity of women. It was a tribute to the courage of women leading. The word Shaheen was used as part of a poem as a metaphor for a falcon flying high.”
Organisers later called us to say that the police returned to apologise for the mishap and for interrupting the hum dekhenge performance and the mural. But perhaps it was too late since the art fair wraps up on Sunday night i.e 2nd Feb and this incident stalled the efforts and performance. Organisers told SheThePeople, “The police came back and said sorry for misunderstanding. The complaint that they registered said that women in hijab are painting words in Urdu in the mural.” The mural was dismantled and never went back up. The area of the exhibition where this happened was called Visions in the Making at the India Art Fair.
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