Delhi Police & Art: Alliance Francaise' Statement on the closure of Sunil Gupta's photo-exhibition

This is a statement issued by the Alliance Francaise de Delhi, in consultation with the President of the Alliance Francaise (Delhi) and the Cultural Committee of the Governing Body, following the premature and undue closure of the photographic exhibition by Sunil Gupta entitled Sun City and Other Stories.

To begin with, we would like to assert that ever since it was established, the Alliance Francaise has always supported and endorsed cultural activities associated with the Freedom of Speech and Expression. It was in this spirit that we offered and used our institutional resources to organise the mentioned exhibition by well-known photographer and artist, Sunil Gupta. The exhibition was in fact inaugurated at 7.30pm on Friday, 23 March 2012 and was attended by over a hundred persons, including a cross-section of important personalities and luminaries. However, within two hours of its opening, a contingent of six policemen entered the gallery premises and insisted that the exhibition be closed. It was later intimated that the exhibition was in violation of Sections 188 and 292 of the Indian Penal Code. The Alliance Francaise used available means to resolve the matter and continue with the show. However, on continued persistence from the police, the Alliance was compelled to close the exhibition, which was done under duress and protest in the presence of the artist.

Following this unfortunate episode, because the Alliance believed it should still support the freedom of artistic expression, consulted the artist and its President, and decided to re-open the exhibition on Wednesday, 4 April 2012. The Alliance, therefore, re-fabricated the exhibition again at significant expense and even provided for additional security measures. However, prior to the second opening, a similar pattern ensued with intimation from the police that they would not permit the exhibition in its original form as they were bound to receive complaints and agitations regarding the nature of the exhibition.   At this point, to avoid any further controversy or damage to the artwork and premises, the re-opening was cancelled. It is pertinent to point out that even though the police had publicly stated that the content of the exhibition was not objectionable or unlawful, their verbal direction to the Alliance was to the contrary and was the governing factor in the decision to cancel the show.

We would like to re-state that the Alliance firmly believes in the Freedom of Expression. However, as a cultural institution, it has to be mindful of local cultural sensitivities.  While it does not accept the conclusion of the police - that the content of the exhibition is obscene - the Alliance was constrained to adhere to the directions of the police. In addition, even though the legality of the police action is questionable, their intimidatory tactics on both occasions sufficiently justify the Alliance Française decisions.

The Alliance Francaise has taken this time to gather the necessary information regarding what has happened, and to seek legal advice to get clarity on its rights and duties so that such unfortunate situations are avoided in the future. We hope that you appreciate the difficult and unprecedented position the Alliance was placed in and the steps that are now being taken to preserve the integrity of art and culture in India by this institution - Governing Body of Alliance Francaise De Delhi.

See also: Police force closure of photo exhibition: The police have forced closure of an exhibition of eminent photographer Sunil Gupta at Alliance Francaise

NB: For a personal account of intimidation by moral/political police (both in and out of uniform), see:

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