#MeToo in Art World: Boycott Is The First Step Towards Justice

Sahar Zaman urges all gallerists who have been silently watching, to stand united in the art world’s #MeToo.

3 min read
Image used for representational purposes.

In my working life, I've had the bonus of being professionally associated with two extremely dynamic worlds: the news media and the arts.

In the art world, the #MeToo movement has been relatively slow to catch up. I’ve had arguments with some of my artist-friends about what I initially felt was the art world’s disappointing duplicity on the issue. Especially when there were explanations to the effect that the art world was extremely small and came with exceptionally high stakes.

I countered that the stakes in the union government or a Bollywood production or a media house were much higher. Of course, it is difficult to prove some of these allegations in a court of law, but that doesn’t take away from the trauma suffered. That being said, it's important to understand how the arts sector works.


Where Do Survivors in the Art World Go for Redressal?

With a creative set of people, a lot of the galleries in India run as tiny units driven by friendships and strong personal relationships with artists. But should this excuse them from taking a stand against a perpetrator? Many feel the solitary artist working in his/her studio is not the equivalent of a company set-up.

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Other industries can set up in-house committees to scrutinise such complaints (albeit after much pushing and cajoling). But an artist in his/her studio functions as an independent entity, where he/she is the CEO, employee and employer—all rolled into one.

A major concern for survivors in the art world remains: who to go to for redressal of their complaints? The police? An artists’ union? Something which doesn’t exist in India.

So, which authority can sack an artist from her own studio? Who will set up a committee to look into the allegations? Perhaps that's one of the main reasons why most accusers in the art world have remained anonymous.

Keeping this complexity in mind, a platform has been created on Instagram which encourages survivors to speak out and maintain anonymity.

After this, more women have found the courage to speak out on Twitter as well.

How to Punish Sexual Predators in the Art World?

The latest allegation has come against Gaurav Bhatia, who held the powerful position of Managing Director, Sotheby’s India. The announcement to have him go on leave just before Sotheby’s maiden auction in India this week, came as a much-needed closure.

The other name who has been given the boot is Riyas Komu, not just a star artist but someone who started India’s first international biennale, the popular Kochi-Muziris Biennale. 

The core team of the biennale had no choice but to ask him to step down, well before the next launch of the biennale this December.

But these rare sackings in the art world have happened primarily because they ran or worked at established art institutions. The lessons that need to be learnt from these two examples is that, action taken is mostly effective in structured places of work.

How can we provide justice to the survivors, who have accused celebrated artist Jatin Das, Delhi curator Rahul Bhattacharya, senior artist Valsan Kolleri, Goa photographer Edson Beny Dias and several more, of sexual harassment?

Is naming and shaming enough? Boycott, perhaps, is the answer. And this boycott will need to come from art galleries, government institutions and art buyers.


Mumbai’s ‘Tarq’ Paves the Way

I would urge all gallerists who have been silently watching from the sidelines, with frozen unease and deafening silence, to stand united in this. They should all release a statement of intent to investigate their artists or curators, who have been outed by the survivors. Let’s rise above art market politics. I agree that these are difficult times and the art market isn’t booming. But I doubt if gallerists will go to sleep hungry and impoverished if they take a stand against a #MeToo accused artist.

The silver lining though is a first step in this direction by Gallery Tarq in Mumbai.

They recently shut down a show of photographer Shahid Datawala after an allegation of sexual misconduct. It’s still a long way to rectify this ugly stamp of patriarchy in the art world. But an absolute boycott is the road ahead.

(Sahar Zaman is an independent political newscaster, arts journalist and curator. You can check out her work here. She tweets at @saharzaman. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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