The National Gallery of Modern Art on Sunday denied Amol Palekar's allegation that the advisory panel of the gallery's Mumbai and Bengaluru centres have been scrapped, as controversy erupted over the veteran actor's speech at a Mumbai event being repeatedly interrupted by some NGMA members.
A video available on social media purportedly showed Palekar criticising the Ministry of Culture at the opening of an exhibition in memory of artist Prabhakar Barwe on February 8 for reportedly scrapping the advisory committees at the gallery's Mumbai and Bengaluru centres.
The veteran actor-director on Sunday said he was only trying to seek reasons behind the cancellation of retrospectives of two senior artists.
However later, NGMA's Director General Adwaita Gadanayak said, "Regarding recent reports in media pertaining to NGMA Mumbai, it is clarified as under - The Advisory Committees of NGMA Mumbai, Bangaluru and Delhi have not been dissolved. Their terms have ended recently and they are in the process of being reconstituted."
"The recommendations of previous advisory committee will be honoured and exhibitions of artists will happen as proposed. The new advisory committee will take a decision relating to future exhibitions," he said.
Palekar told reporters in Pune on Sunday that the artists' advisory committee at NGMA had approved holding of retrospectives of three artists, of whom Prabhakar Barwe's work was inaugurated.
"But I came to know that without any communication to the committee, the next two retrospectives have been cancelled by Mumbai NGMA's new director Anita Rupavataram. I wanted to raise these issues. How and when these decisions were taken, we wanted to know," he said.
At the opening of the exhibition 'Inside The Empty Box' in Mumbai on Friday, Palekar said, "Many of you may not know that this retrospective will be the last show decided by the advisory committee of local artists and not by some bureaucrat or an agent of the government with an agenda of either moral policing or proliferation of certain art commensurate with an ideological incline.
"As of November 13, 2018, the artistes' advisory committees at both regional centres Mumbai and Bangalore -- have been abolished, is what I have learnt," he said.
Palekar added that he was "in the process of verifying the hearsay".
At this point, an NGMA member on the stage interrupted, saying that Palekar should talk about the event. To this, Palekar responded, "I am going to talk about the same. Are you applying censorship to that?"
He then said as per his information, after the abolition of local artists' committee, decisions as to whose work should be exhibited would be taken from Delhi by the Ministry of Culture.
Palekar was again interrupted by a woman, who said, "This is not needed at the moment, sorry... The function is about Prabhakar Barwe, please stick to that."
However, he refused to stop, and went on to mention that writer Nayantara Sahgal was invited to speak at the Marathi literary convention recently but at the last minute the invitation was withdrawn because what she was going to say "was slightly critical of the situation around us. Are we creating the same situation here?"
Several came out criticising the NGMA which is under the Ministry of Culture.
"Why does the BJP want to police people's thoughts and opinions and control what they eat, wear, say and do? They want to make India monochrome and colourless. Telling Palekar to stop speaking shows the nervousness of the government," Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said.
Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant claimed this was not an isolated incident and it was being "deliberately" done for last five years.
He sought to draw a parallel between the incident involving Palekar and several earlier attacks allegedly by right-wing organisations on artists, social thinkers and public personalities who had criticised the BJP-led government.
"For the last five years, this government could not tolerate any criticism from various sections of society. Their priority has been towards suppressing the dissent and threatening those who follow a different school of thought," Sawant said.
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