New Delhi: A solo art exhibition by Bangladeshi artist Rokeya Sultana in India has been indefinitely postponed over “safety and security” reasons in light of the Durga Puja communal violence against the country’s Hindu minority. Sultana is an award-winning printmaker and painter.
The exhibition has been cancelled for the time being over concerns that her work could be vandalised, official sources told ThePrint.
The exhibition, which was an initiative of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) — an autonomous body under the Ministry of External Affairs — was scheduled to take place in Delhi and Kolkata, between 23 October and 11 December. It was meant to showcase Sultana’s body of work from the past 40 years.
The exhibition had been planned as a joint collaboration between the ICCR and the Bengal Foundation, a Dhaka-based non-profit organisation.
Official sources said the exhibition had to be called off as “tempers were high”. Hence, they added, a decision was taken to “organise the exhibition at a later date”, once the issue got settled. The postponement, sources said, was important for the “safety and security” of the artist and her work.
Whenever the exhibition is scheduled next, it will first be held in Kolkata and then in Delhi, sources added. The original plan had been to have it first in the national capital, at the city’s esteemed Lalit Kala Akademi, and then in Kolkata.
The latest episode of communal violence in Bangladesh began on 13 October, during Durga Puja festivities. Suspected members of the religious fundamentalist group Jamaat-e-Islami, and its affiliate Islami Chhatra Shibir, vandalised several puja pavilions, torched villages, and desecrated temples.
According to sources in Bangladesh, the “sudden cancellation” of the exhibition came as a “surprise” to Sultana.
Official sources said, however, that Sultana had been informed in advance that her works will not be showcased in India owing to the incidents that took place in Bangladesh earlier. Sultana, who was in Delhi till Tuesday, left for Dhaka Wednesday.
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Commemorating 50 years of India-Bangladesh diplomatic ties
A curtain-raiser for the exhibition was organised in Dhaka on 7 October, which was attended by Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Vikram Doraiswami. The exhibition was to be held to commemorate 50 years of India-Bangladesh diplomatic ties.
Thanks to @iccr_hq and Bengal Foundation @trustforthearts, Rokeya Sultana will feature in the largest standalone showing of a single #Bangladesh female artists' work in India from October 23 to Dec 11. Thank you also to @MvHcBd and @SwissAmbBD for being there! https://t.co/Iw9njwMKP4
— Vikram Doraiswami (@VDoraiswami) October 6, 2021
The exhibition was originally expected to showcase 111 artworks, 35 to 40 photographs, three animation videos, a film, and 15 pieces of sculpture, and was divided into two broad sections, one to be showcased in Delhi and the other in Kolkata. The idea was to showcase Sultana’s work, including that from her years as a student in Santiniketan, West Bengal.
Born in Chittagong, Bangladesh, Sultana obtained her Master’s degree in printmaking from Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan, under an ICCR scholarship in 1983. She also received a French government scholarship to L’Atelier Lacouriere et Frelaut in Paris in 2003. She is an influential figure in the Dhaka, Santiniketan, and Sydney art circuits.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has alleged that the exhibition was postponed without giving any appropriate reasons.
“I would urge upon (sic) the govt of India to take proactive measures so as to organise the same as fast as possible. Cultural exchange between two countries will certainly augur well in respect of our relations,” Chowdhury said in a series of tweets.
Bangladesi artist Rokeya Sultana's solo has been postponed without assigning any appropriate reasons. However the exhibition in India was organized by Indian Council of Cultural Relations in collaboration with Bengal Foundations.
— Adhir Chowdhury (@adhirrcinc) October 22, 2021
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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