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Vivan Sundaram’s OPEN LETTER on the VadFest



1. I received a letter inviting me to participate in ‘Back to Collage’ exhibition in the Painting Department of the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda.
2. Most artists, including the curators, know that I will not participate in the VadFest exhibition at the Faculty of Fine Arts (FFA); but I have refrained from making a public statement so as not to hurt friends who are organizing the event. It now seems wrong not to speak up as the implications of this event go beyond friendship.
3. During the last days, I have been in dialogue with several artists over the multiple issues involved in the FFA/ VadFest exhibitions. The inception, organization and sponsorship of the exhibitions taking place under the banner of Vadfest remain hazy. There is mention of something called VIACF Trust; there is mention of 200 Baroda citizens backing the event at the FFA; there is also mention of MS University giving financial support for infrastructural improvements to the FFA on the occasion of the VadFest (though the university is under UGC and not the State Government). There is also the odd fact of the University/FFA suspending pedagogic responsibility during the VadFest exhibitions–as a result, students will be deprived of their work-space for 2 months before the final exams.
4. Vadfest’s fancily designed website (and recent newspaper advertisements) carry the logo of the BJP Government/ photographs of the Chief Minister and the Tourism Minister of Gujarat. No other organization is mentioned.
5. It seems now that the initiatives of our friends in the FFA, planned I believe in good faith, have been taken over. The VadFest has been appropriated by the shamefully tainted Gujarat Government. With this extravagant event, the BJP is ‘thanking’ Baroda for giving Mr Modi his triumphant status; in turn the corporate citizenry of Baroda is making a rightwing alliance within Vibrant Gujarat for its own profit in business, including the art sector.
6. The VadFest, profiled as a ‘secular’ celebration of the arts, endorses the developmental agenda of Mr Modi; it helps mask recent memory of a massacre in this city and of persecution of students and staff by the same outfits in the Fine Arts Faculty itself. To induct the free-minded and resistant space of the FFA under their banner will count as a great gain for the BJP/Gujarat Government.
7. The relationship between the artist, arts institutions/university, civic life, the government and the state is always difficult to define and negotiate. SAHMAT (one of the most visible cultural organization to have opposed the RSS/BJP agendas since the beginning of the 1990s) has rallied artists to make common cause of our citizen commitments. (I mention this because some of the FFA curators and a large number of artists invited to VadFest have regularly exhibited on the oppositional platform of SAHMAT in the past years and until very recently.)
8. RSS/ BJP have a defined agenda of Hindutva and are up-scaling their cultural ambitions to penetrate modern institutions of knowledge, including history, humanities, science and the arts. This is a time for extra alertness as the terms of negotiation are being set by right-wing outfits that are now part of the ruling party and command government support..
9. It is a sad day for me to send an official ‘Refusal’ to my own Fine Arts Faculty which has stood at the forefront of radical thinking and creativity and has been well known to have opposed the politics of divisive communalism for over half a century.
10. But perhaps it is important to let this occasion become not one of hostility and censor within the artist community, but of critical understanding of where we are situated and what kind of culture and society we endorse.

Vivan Sundaram
Delhi 11th January 2015

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