November 22, 2015

India: 'Hurt feelings' and The cow installation

The Telegraph, November 22, 2015

'Hurt feelings' flatten plastic cow message
Rakhee Roy Talukdar

The cow installation before it was brought down. Picture by Surendra Jain Paras

Jaipur, Nov. 21: The sight of an inflated plastic cow suspended in mid-air with a balloon at an event here stoked complaints today, prompting police to play art critic and order the organisers to bring it down forthwith.

The police also took in a couple of artists for "aggressive" questioning at a time the country is debating intolerance and associated factors such as cow protection.

Sources said the message the artist intended to convey through the installation was that cows were dying a painful death after feeding on plastic waste carelessly dumped on streets.

But the police said they received many calls, not from any particular group, that the depiction of the dying cow was not "looking arty" but was "hurting the sentiments of people who worship cows".

The cow art installation, suspended on the lawns of the Jawahar Kala Kendra as part of the third Jaipur Art Summit that began today, is the creation of a local artist, Siddharth Karalwal.

According to the sources, the police landed up at the venue after receiving complaints from common people outraged at the sight of a cow-shaped balloon floating in the air.

Some NGO activists are reported to have turned up at the site and urged the organisers -- the Jaipur-based Art Summit Pvt Ltd - to dismantle the installation. It was brought down within five minutes of the police intervention.

Since Karalwal was not present at the venue, two other artists doing the explaining - Chintan Upadhaya and Delhi-based Anish Ahluwalia - were taken to Bajaj Nagar police station and questioned for over three hours before they were let off. Some reports said the duo were roughed up.

Vidyasagar, one of the organisers, said the point of the installation had been grossly misunderstood. "Siddharth's point was to promote the protection of animals and cleaning-up of the environment. Last year, too, we faced protests over a tile installation of a deity painted on a toilet pot."

Kunwar Rashtradeep, the superintendent of police, Jaipur (East), said what artists chose to do within the four walls of a building for art-lovers was a different thing. "But what can be seen from a distance and looks like a dying cow is not in good taste, whatever be the message."

He said the police had got many calls from people, not any particular group, that "a dying cow hanging in mid-air was not looking arty but was hurting the sentiments of people who worship cows". That was why it had to be brought down, he added.

Some reports said one of the complainants was one Suraj Soni of the Bajrang Dal. Soni is also an office-bearer of an NGO, People for Animals.

On reports that the artists had been detained, Rashtradeep said: "Nobody was detained. The artists were only questioned."

Artist Ahluwalia, one of the two taken to the police station, said: "The police were quite aggressive and asked us if we had permission letters.... They said such an installation was hurting the sentiments of the people and the message it intended to convey was not clear. But no FIR was registered."

He added: "People's sensitivities have become so frail nowadays that there is hardly any freedom for creativity, especially for artists. People are not concerned that cows are eating plastic and dying agonising deaths. The message of the installation obviously did not become clear to the people."

Apart from the cow installation, over 250 contemporary works --- paintings, graphic art, sculpture, a temple made of pots and huts made of metal rods --- are on display at the art meet. Both local and national artists are participating in it. Some works of art have come from China and Singapore.