The Art of censorship

From art shows being shut down to movies not being screened, art themed on LGBTI issues have always faced opposition. Artistes talk about life after the SC verdict.

Director Onir's I AM won a National Award in the Best Film category in 2012, but the movie has still not been shown on Indian television. The film which was made up of four shorts, has one part that speaks about the exploitation of a gay man. Onir says, "When I went to the Central Board of Film Certification, they told me that we can't have children watching two men looking lovingly into each other's eyes. With Article 377 being upheld, it's not just social stigma anymore, there is legal stigma as well."

There has been anger and dismay from the art community, not just because same-sex intercourse has been criminalised, but because there could be far-reaching effects of the law, including censorship of the arts. There have been enough instances where artists have faced the ire of the moral police, from MF Husain and Akbar Padamsee to Tejal Shah. There is a fear that the law could be misinterpreted to censor art. But gallerist Abhay Maskara, who has shown works by artists such as T Venkanna and Shine Sivan, who question genders and sexuality, does not feel intimidated. "If the arts are going to cow down, there will be no freedom of expression. Whether it is legal or not, as gallerists and curators, our job is to give a space for the vision of an artist," he says.

Gender and sexuality have been a constant theme in Jehangir Jani's works. In 2007, a sculpture from Jani's show, "Great Expectations", at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, Mumbai, was not allowed to be exhibited while another piece was put on display only after "the obscene part" was covered with a fig leaf. He says, "There are very few artists who work with sexuality and LGBT issues anyway. Even I am not considered a mainstream artist, I am classified as a gay artist. It's important for art to be created without fear. How is that going to be possible when you have laws like this?"

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