Malayala Manorama, the state’s largest media group, recalled the December issue of its 125-year-old literary magazine Bhashaposhini after objections were raised against an illustration
The abrupt withdrawal of the last issue of a literary magazine and the apologies offered by the editors following the protests against the publication of a painting and the image of a sculpture in the communal districts have raised concern in literary circles of the Kerala.
Malayala Manorama, the state’s largest media group, recalled December issue of its 125-year-old literary magazine Bhashaposhini after objections were raised against an illustration showing a half-naked dancer surrounded by nuns and the photograph of a sculpture of the spiritual leader of the Ezhava community.
The painting, an artistic interpolation of Leonardo da Vinci’s classic 15th century mural – “The Last Supper” – by famous painter Tom Vattakkuzhi, accompanied the review with a play Mrudwangiyudeh Durmruthyu (The Unnatural Death of the Fragile) was published in the literary magazine issue.
C Gopan’s play is based on the poem by Vyloppilli Sreedhara Menon Narthaki (Dancer) on Mata Hari, a Dutch dancer and courtesan who was executed by the French in WWI for espionage. The poem depicts the dance she performed according to the last wish granted to her.
Sree Narayana Guru’s sculpture, meanwhile, was made by well-known artist and sculptor Riyas Komu as part of an exhibition held on the occasion of the Kashi Art Gallery’s 10th anniversary 11 years ago.
The image of the sculpture was used as a cover visual for a book on Guru, Guruchinthana: Oru Mughavura, published by Kottayam-based DC Books last month. Bhashaposhini reproduced the image on its cover while carrying an excerpt from the book in its December issue.
The trouble started after Vattakkuzhi posted the table and the magazine’s report on his Facebook page. Publishers have faced a backlash on social media and outside. They remembered the problem and removed the painting after some Christian groups questioned the portrayal of nuns in a bad light.
But when it reappeared on newsstands, new objections came from Hindu groups who felt the sculpture showed a distorted image of their spiritual leader. The editors again recalled the issue and removed the cover photo after various Ezhava groups like Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam and his political arm Bharath Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) threatened to take to the streets.
The protests were only canceled after the group published an unconditional apology in its daily newspaper, Manorama malayala, which incidentally is the largest broadcast daily in the state. The apologies appearing on the daily’s front page in all its editions as is and externally indicated that they had realized that the images published on the cover and inside the December issue had hurt readers. and apologized for the mistake. .
Manorama editorial director Thomas Jacob declined to say anything more on the matter. He said they said everything they had to say about it in the newspaper. “It is a closed chapter as far as we are concerned,” he added.
However, artists and writers have called the Manorama group’s decision to withdraw the works of art dangerous following protests from some sections. This is not the first time that publications have succumbed to such pressures.
Mathrubhumi, which is the second-largest state-owned daily, ended a series on Ramayana by renowned scholar and critic MM Basheer last year after a Hindutva group questioned the accuracy of a writing Muslim on a Hindu subject.
Tom Vattakkuzhi said he was shocked by the by Bhashaposhini decision to recall the issue due to protests against his work. He felt that there were protests against certain artistic works because of the incomprehension of the population.
“I think it is the duty of the media and cultural leaders to clear up misunderstandings. If they shirk their responsibility and succumb to the pressures, there will be no one to protect creative freedom in the country, ”says the painter.
The painter said First post that protests against his painting may have arisen because of reading the painting out of context. He said the work was the essence of the piece which captures a poignant moment in the life of the Dutch dancer.
“The two have different languages. A writer may not be able to express everything in words. Feelings or ideas that cannot be expressed in words can be presented through visuals. The two are complementary in a work of art, ”explains Vattakkuzhi.
He said the artwork was also misunderstood due to the air of intolerance currently prevailing in the country. People become intolerant because they have not internalized democratic values. He said that painters were unable to do much in this regard as they did not have a popular medium to share their works.
“Painters need galleries and other niche places to exhibit their work. Only the elite have access to these places. I took the opportunity to paint for Gopan’s play thinking it would get a better audience, ”Vattakkuzhi added.
Famous writer MN Karaserry viewed the protests against painting and sculpture as an indication that people had lost the sense of appreciating the work of art. The Keralites have stopped understanding art, he added.
“The painter placed Mata Hari in the place of Jesus Christ, not for lack of respect for Christ. Her intention was to show how women are crucified now. If people understand the work in this direction, there will be no protests, ”Karaserry said.
He said Riyas Komu correctly portrayed Sree Narayana Guru in the current social context. He may have been influenced by the misuse of Guru for political and other gain by the present generation. If Guru is to be presented the way these people treat him, there is no need for a sculpture. One photo is enough.
“Art interprets people and times. Those who do not understand this or those who pretend not to understand create problems. It’s not easy to guide them properly, ”explains Karaserry.
Komu, a founding member of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India’s largest contemporary art exhibition, declined to say anything about the controversy.
“I am currently focusing on the third edition of the biennial now in Kochi. I don’t want to be drawn into controversy because I am fully engaged in the activities of the Biennale, ”Komu said.