[photopress:mfhusain_motherindia.jpg,full,alignleft]It is well worth highlighting another case of an artist causing offence to minority communities. Asia House has seen fit to close an exhibition by MF Hussain, after Hindu Groups protested against the depiction of Indian Goddesses in the nude. Many in the Indian community have found this offensive.
What is worrying is that the exhibition has had to close because of “threats” from offended Hindus. This is an unfortunate development, as it once again has the effect of portraying those from the Asian community as being intolerant and unintegrated. I await with resignation the familiar cries of “multiculturalism doesn’t work”.
As I have said before, if multiculturalism is simply about two groups living side-by-side without integration, then clearly it is not going to work. But if it is about two groups changing each other due to their co-habitation, then a more interesting process is at work.
In this case, the refusal of a vocal minority to uphold ideals of free speech, critically undermines the wider multicultural argument. Thankfully, the Pickled Politics blog is refusing to put up with this kind of sabotage, and a counter-protest and petition against the threats are being planned. In a related post at Comment Is Free, Sunny Hundal explains that the problem stems from various groups competing for victim status:
[The campaign against MF Hussain’s work] was backed by the supposed representative of British Hindus, the Hindu Forum of Britain, whose spokesperson, Ramesh Kallidai, has trotted out the familiar line that Hindus are being maligned in favour of Muslims and other religious groups … This competition for victimhood status has almost become de rigueur.
It is interesting to read how Hundal and others separate the issues of freedom of expression, from the issue of taking offence at an affront to Indian culture. If young progressives come to replace the religious conservatives as the de facto spokespeople for the Asian communities, then the multicultural debate could become much more productive. At present it seems to have entered a religious cul-de-sac which can never be resolved.
Finally, it is worth emphasising that these protests are hilariously counter-productive. As with the Mohammed cartoons, the furore has only served to advertise the exhibition to the likes of me. Now it comes to pass that the first image I have ever seen of Mother India is a nude!
I don’t know the intentions of the artist. However, it is worth pointing out that this is a classic case of how morality and sensibilities change with geography. In Europe, depicting a goddess nude is not just inoffensive, but almost essential. Instead of complaining of “hurt sentiments”, perhaps those who complain should rejoice that icons from Indian culture have achieve parity with the beacons of Western European art, such as the Venus De Milo, and Rodin’s ‘Kiss’. If I, an ignorant Occidental, am to learn about Mother India, Durga and Draupadi, what better way to begin the dialogue by presenting an image of Them in the classical style? Where did I read that early missionaries to India presented Jesus with blue skin, so He more closely resembled the existing deities?