Copy-paste or Sabotage?

Or, a campaign to take down Mumbai’s biggest art show that features a protest against section 377?

Or, a campaign to take down Mumbai’s biggest art show that features a protest against section 377?

It started months ago when KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, along with one of Mumbai’s most respected art galleries Gallery Beyond, embarked on a project that would focus on two issues – the stifling diktats on the freedom of expression and section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, a law that criminalises consensual same sex relationships.

The initial call to the artists went out for a “Wall of Solidarity’’, and in April 2015 it was changed to “The 377191 Wall’’ but not because it was copyright infringement but a professional etiquette.


Is there a copyright on the term “Wall of Solidarity’’?

Delhi-based “cultural curator” Myna Mukherjee wrote to us on March 8, 2015 saying the “Wall of Solidarity’’ was her copyright as part of the Resist show. The wall had works of 118 artists. She asked us in her email that the “1 by1  format, curatorial content, language, intent and the name itself is not duplicated, recreated or appropriated in any manner.”

We did some research on the “Wall of Solidarity’’ on the internet and realized that there have been numerous such art projects – ranging from a Youth Solidarity to murals for Palestine in a Wall of Solidarity and one by Republicans. So by calling her argument, she herself has infringed upon someone else’s right to have a copy right.

On April 3, 2015, KASHISH wrote back to Myna Mukherjee (not as claimed by her that we changed the name and the concept after Gallery Beyond was issued a legal notice on May 21, 2015).

There was no copyright on the word or concept of ‘Wall of Solidarity’. There are numerous ‘Wall of Solidarity’ across the world for various issues. The format of 1” x 1” is a universal thing. A simple google search gives you 26 million hits on Wall of Solidarity all over the world. Please see google search Here .

However as a deference to the ‘Resist’ project and an acknowledgement of our shared struggles against inequalities, KASHISH decided to promote the art exhibition as ‘Reaching Out, Touching Hearts’ Art Exhibition (that is the theme of KASHISH 2015). The name was subsequently changed to “The 377191 Wall’’ to give it a more fitting title.

We also requested Myna Mukherjee that “As a community programmer, we hope you too will acknowledge KASHISH’s effort in championing for LGBT equality and dignity and support our project, by encouraging artists you know to contribute to our project and not desist them.’’ We told her that we could give her due credit as a matter of courtesy – but there was no response to the April 2015 email and instead the court case was filed in May 2015.

The 377191 Wall

To respect the artists who had flooded us with their art works in different formats, and partly to send out a message that we would not cow down to bullying, we decided to go ahead with the show to coincide with the film festival.

Gallery Beyond decided to curate some 277 works by 238 artists – one of the biggest such shows. We decided to steer clear of the word “Wall of Solidarity’’ or restrict it to the 1 by 1 format – since anyways many of the artists had not stuck to that format.

Why The 377191 Wall is important to KASHISH?

The 377191 Wall is also an important fundraiser for KASHISH. 50 per cent of the proceeds of the sales is to go to the artists, 20 per cent to Gallery Beyond and 30 per cent to KASHISH. For the festival which every year faces a resource crunch this is a welcome fundraiser as the money is to be used for our various projects that KASHISH works on through the year – including having special screenings at colleges, corporates and pride festivals across India to raise the visibility on LGBTQ issues in the mainstream.

Stirring controversy right in the middle of KASHISH MIQFF!

Voted among the “Top 5 LGBT Film festivals’’ in the world, KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, over the last six years is a labour of love with huge community participation. For its sixth edition 180 films were screened from 44 countries over five days between May 27-31, 2015 at three venues – Liberty Cinema, Alliance Francaise and Max Mueller Bhavan. The festival utilizes the resources of its organisers – Solaris Pictures and The Humsafar Trust, as well as community and non-community members who volunteer time, effort and money to make it happen.

This year however we had an added burden when Myna Mukherjee filed a court case against Gallery Beyond.

Interestingly, there had been some pre-existing dispute over returning of over 30 works between Myna Mukherjee and Gallery Beyond.

Is there a conspiracy?

One journalist for whom we arranged a special preview of the exhibition, wrote about it for his online edition and then promptly sent an email to Myna seeking her reaction to the piece. He then reached out to us saying they were planning to carry a story on the controversy for the newspaper’s Sunday edition. We asked the reporter to confirm that a court case had been filed and also requested him to give us time to properly respond since we were in the middle of KASHISH 2015. We also explained that since the exhibition was on for a month till June 27, the article was not time sensitive and could be carried with a detailed statement from us. Claiming that he was under pressure from his editor to write about the controversy, the reporter anyway decided to go ahead with the article that was carried on the closing day of KASHISH 2015 on May 31, 2015.

The same day (May 31, 2015) while we were in the midst of preparations for the closing, Delhi-based art critic and curator Georgina Maddox sought a response from the Festival Director Sridhar Rangayan on the controversy. Rangayan through a text message requested Georgina Maddox to give us a day’s time for a full statement about it. She said that the article was “time sensitive’’ and went ahead with her article for a blog without our festival director’s response that would clarify matters.

Delhi-based artist Balbir Krishan (who had written to us that “I wanna to part of this exhibition but I don’t want any problem with my gallery’’ and then that “I really love to be part of this exhibition. I already finish my work for this show.’’) then gave an interview to the same Goergina Maddox repeating the allegations. Curiously, the points raised in the blog were ad nauseam repeatedin the interview.

We realized it was a coordinated effort to target KASHISH 2015. We refused to however let this affect KASHISH 2015 and the festival was organized with élan, while facing attacks of some people from the LGBTQ community who were conspiring together to pull the festival and art exhibition down.

Why did we issue this statement?

We decided to put out this statement since we were being asked by our well-wishers and the artist community what our response was to the campaign on media and social media running KASHISH and its organisers down. We will not let this stop us or allow others to sabotage the annual festival or the hard work, support and enthusiasm of the 238 artists who have contributed their artworks to this exhibition, which received a tremendous response at its opening on May 23rd.We will not remain in the closet and shoot from others’ shoulders to target the community. We will go ahead with our work of upholding ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘freedom to choose’ – two main objectives of the exhibition. We will continue visibilising the issues of the LGBTQ community through the medium of films, art, literature and culture. We trust in the judiciary of this country and are sure Justice will be done!

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