Ram Rahman: The Question of Art and Politics

The following article was distributed by PACBI after being published in the Mail Today on August 7, 2011. The piece below is a discussion of Indian artists’ commitment to boycott an Israeli museum show. The Indian artists’ statement was published here earlier.

Ram Rahman | Mail Today | 7 August 2011The Question of Art and Politics

The artist”s community in India has always been highly politicized. This is only natural because it is a reflection of our society, which is one of the most politicized in the world. With my 22 year experience with SAHMAT, I have seen how overwhelming the community has been in supporting initiatives against communalism, fighting for the right to free expression, and also standing against social injustice in its varied forms. It is a legacy of the incredible mass mobilization against colonial rule during our freedom struggle which made personal action in a collective struggle an immensely powerful weapon. The use of non-violent methods as a moral stand made our revolution radically different from the other major revolutions of the 20th century. While our ideals may have become diluted over the years since independence, it is important to recognize that our present consciousness has roots.

The debate raised in the last few days by Pushpamala”s call for the invited Indian artists to boycott a show at the Tel Aviv Museum in Israel next year, should also be placed in this context. India”s support for the struggle of the Palestinian people is long-standing and has been a cornerstone of not just government policy but is widely embedded in the consciousness of our people. This, again, is only natural, given our own bitter experience of the colonial ‘divide and rule” politics which has left our own continent with a never-ending wound. Many of us had joined the international Palestinian Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel last year during the brutal assault by the Israeli army on Gaza. This followed the horrific attacks on Lebanon, in both of which the Israeli”s broke all international laws by using phosphur bombs against civilians. This boycott is modeled on the anti-apartheid boycott against South Africa which had no small part to play in the final overthrow of that injustice.

People have argued that while our artists signed petitions against the detention by Chinese authorities of the artist Ai Wei Wei, (recently released under restrictions), they continue to show in China – are missing the point. The Israeli state has actively attacked an entire population, driven them from their lands, built on occupied territory against all international law. This is a matter of state policy. And Israel claims to be a ‘democracy” which can order international airlines to not allow specific passengers to fly there and deport those from the airport when they arrive for a non-violent protest (as happened only days ago).

The case of our own MF Husain is also different. Our entire artist community raised its voice against the violent assaults against him by Hindu right wing political groupings. That the ruling ‘progressive” government did not have the political courage to stand up against these forces was also widely and vociferously protested by us, mainly in SAHMAT forums. After his passing in exile, the incredible outpouring of tribute to him showed so clearly the respect and affection in which he was held by huge numbers of people across India. And it was a slap in the face of those who thought their campaign to denigrate him and his work had been successful.

We can raise our voices here, unlike in China, and so far there are no new ‘Berlin walls” being built here like the ironic perversion being built in Palestine by Israel to separate the Palestinians from their farms and olive groves.The decision to protest or join campaigns is a personal one, as it should be. But from my long experience, I know that speaking up is quite natural for our artists and that is one reason our art scene has the richness, variety and vibrancy that it does. The right to dissent and speak freely is something which is much rarer than we realize, and it is something of which we can be fiercely proud



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