An ICC for the art world

Updated: 16 December, 2018 09:54 IST | Ekta Mohta | Mumbai

More than exchanging pleasantries or gossip at soirees, members of the fraternity need to disucss setting up a redressal forum

A post from @herdsceneand
A post from @herdsceneand

Since October this year, Instagram handle @herdsceneand has been acting as an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) for the art world. Anonymous posts have revealed incident after incident that showed the true colours of artists such as Jatin Das, Riyas Komu and, most recently, Subodh Gupta.

Because of the platform, Gaurav Bhatia, of Sotheby's, first lost face, then lost his job; Komu and Gupta were made to climb down from their pedestals and their positions at Kochi-Muziris Biennale and Serendipity Arts Festival respectively; and a total of 11 women found the strength in numbers to speak up against Das. The Insta handle had to take on this role because no one before them was doing it.

Rosalyn D'mello
Rosalyn D'mello

"A lot of galleries are very small, private spaces, with very few employees," says Rosalyn D'mello, art writer and mid-day columnist. "They don't have HR or any medium of redressal. If I have a problem with another employee, there's no one I can complain to. You don't want to lose your job; you're not earning very much anyways; a lot of women in the art field are also doing it without the consent of their families: there are a lot of odds stacked against them. So, it would help to have some system in place. At the moment, there's none."

Rashmi Dhanwani, founder of arts organisation The Art X Company, specifies, "We don't have a single body or association of arts professionals in this space. There aren't any laws governing labour in the Indian arts sector. What you have is what applies to other similar-sized businesses." The government mandates an ICC for any organisation with over 10 employees, but as Dhanwani says, "Galleries comprise small teams. They are not required by law to have an ICC. How they deal with complaints of sexual harassment is very much left to either the moral stance taken by the society, such as the #MeToo movement, or their own discretion, such as confronting the client, taking the team member off the project, or something as simple as, 'Don't meet this person alone.' In my experience, most galleries have handled cases in the above fashion. For instance, Mumbai-based photographer Shahid Datawala's show at Tarq was cancelled after accusations of harassment surfaced against him online."

Young and inexperienced
Foot soldiers in the art world, like in films, are easy prey. Art writer Phalguni Desai says, "Both are comparatively small industries that create a lot of money, and they're dependent on a handful of stars." Both are also informal workspaces. The art world is based on relationships, with people sometimes being hired over dinners. Arundhati Ghosh, executive director at India Foundation for the Arts, says, "The problem with the arts sector is it's so unorganised, with so many freelancers. They simply don't have a place to go to." Even discussions about a platform for sexual harassment claims are undertaken informally. Ghosh adds, "Artists in Delhi [initiated by dancer Mandeep Raikhy] and Bengaluru [initiated by Sarita Vellani of Toto Funds the Arts] have come together and held meetings to discuss exactly this."

On December 13, some 60-odd members came together in Kochi in a similar fashion. D'mello, one of the attendees, says, "We were trying to make sense of how Riyas's presence was being asserted [at the biennale], even in his official absence. At the flag-hoisting ceremony, his name had been invoked; at another book launch, his name had been invoked in a very thankful and celebratory way, which felt insensitive. Along with the allegations that came out [about Gupta], many of us were walking around in a daze. We just wanted to be together, and wanted a sense of community."

The solution, according to all, is the same: a legit platform where everyone is heard. Curator Natasha Ginwala outlines, "Setting up of an ICC and code of conduct for employees is essential. A huge aspect is [also] building trust with those who have influence and power in the field taking responsibility to clean up the predatory behaviour that takes place casually. We need to move beyond the panic mode that is created by the 24-hour media cycle and work on long-term transitions in the cultural field."

If wishes came true
Even if such a committee were to exist, what would justice look like? Ghosh says, "Justice would be what the complainant is okay with. Not every complainant wants to go to court. The ones who do should be encouraged and supported. The shape justice will take will emerge out of these conversations. In Bengaluru, some women took up an issue with a yoga instructor, and they made a graphic novel out of it [The Illustrated Women's Guide to Yoga Abuse]. We all have to figure out different ways of fighting this battle."

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First Published: 16 December, 2018 09:46 IST

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