Sanjana Gupta of Saffronart on the censoring of one of Tejal Shah’s videos at ‘Indian Highway’ in Beijing
Beijing: Initially put together by Julia Peyton-Jones and Hans Ulrich Obrist for London’s Serpentine Gallery and Gunnar B. Kvaran of the Astrup Fearnley Museet, the exhibition ‘Indian Highway’ has travelled to Norway, Italy and France since it was first shown in the United Kingdom in 2008-09. In each of its iterations the exhibition grows and changes, including specially commissioned pieces that are only shown in one location. The exhibition’s latest incarnation, its first outside Europe, opened at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing on 23 June this year, and has since attracted thousands of visitors daily.
In China, the exhibition showcases more than 200 works by 29 modern and contemporary Indian artists and collectives, including sculpture, painting, video, installation and performance art. At the Ullens Center, one of the works on display was a four minute video installation by Tejal Shah that explored the communal riots in Gujarat in 2002, which claimed about 1,200 lives, through a series of interviews. This video, titled ‘I Love My India’ and made in 2003, underlined that the atrocities committed in Gujarat during the riots amounted to genocide, and also that they are still to be answered for. Following the exhibition’s opening, the Indian Government asked the host gallery in Beijing to remove this video from the display as its subject and content was highly controversial. According to BJP spokesperson, Nirmala Sitharaman, the video, with its “politically controversial overtones”, threw bad light on India and should never have been permitted to be part of the show in China by India’s Ministry of External Affairs, who had supported the exhibition by sponsoring the travel of two of the featured artists to Beijing.
This exhibition, the largest show of Indian art in China to date, allowed Chinese audiences a rare opportunity to view a range of contemporary Indian art, and also allowed Indian artists the opportunity to express themselves to diverse audiences. Tejal Shah expressed her personal opinions through her video, and although these views may be regarded by some as controversial, I think the Indian Government overreacted by insisting that the video be taken down.