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Is Self-Censorship an Answer to Cultural Policing?

I, Anil Xavier, am currently pursuing MFA Sculpture (IV Semester) at the Department of Fine Arts, S.N. School of Arts and Communication, University of Hyderabad. I write this note to inform you about the distressing situation at our Department due to some unilateral decisions taken by the authorities regarding our Final Display. As many of you may be aware, every year, the S.N. School holds in the School premises a display of works by the final semester students as part of the examination process. For this academic year, 1 May 2015 is declared as the date of the Final Display.


On 31st March 2015, the Department had convened a general body meeting to discuss various aspects of students’ activities, including the final semester display. One of the propositions made by the Head of the Department was that, only a select few works of the students would be allowed for display, and anything which may have the potential to create controversies should be removed in advance. To implement this decision, it was proposed that a screening committee will be formed within the department in order to scrutinize the works of the final year students, and any work decided as inappropriate by this committee would not be allowed for display.


It should be noted here that some of the students clearly expressed their discontent with regard to this proposal and pointed out the potential danger of it and its impact on art practice, art teaching, and experimentation. Since there was no consensus on this matter other than the vehement assertion of some faculty members about the ‘virtues’ of this censorship, as students, we assumed that the decision regarding this proposal has been deferred so that there will be more discussion and debate on this highly contentious issue among the student and artistic community before finalizing this proposal.


Contrary to this expectation, yesterday (16th April 2015), the Head of the Department issued a circular and publicized it via the notice board stating that the students are obliged to submit the photograph and details of their works in the digital format on or before 20th April 2015, which will be duly screened by the committee for the final display. The notice is completely silent on what are the criteria through which these selections will be made, and what are the ways in which these decisions and their rationale will be informed to the students. Such committees without a clear directive and procedure, as we well know, can be manipulated by the people in power, according to their ideological orientations.


Ironically, one of the reasons provided by the HoD in the General Body Meeting, for implementing such a screening committee was that “What happened in Baroda in 2007 [regarding Chandramohan’s works] should not be repeated here.” As all of us know, in fact the referred incident led to the artist community and concerned citizens continuously fighting against such attacks on institutional autonomy and defended the students’ right to experiment and display their work within institutional premises. Deviating from such history, this prestigious institution is imposing a self-censorship instead of protecting the rights of its students.


We urge all those concerned with and committed to the future of art educational institutions and the importance of experimentation in art practices to express your informed views on this matter and communicate the same to the Head of the Department and other members of faculty at the S.N. School of Arts and Communication, University of Hyderabad. Since the last date of submitting the digital copy of our works is the 20th of April 2015, an immediate and proactive gesture on your part will be beneficial for the current batch of students.


Anil Xavier

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