'Thin line between freedom of expression and its abuse'
KATHMANDU, Sept 29: Anamika Malla is in the third year of her Bachelor’s degree at the Advanced College of Engineering, and Pravin Aryal is in the eighth semester of his Bachelor’s of Business Administration at Universal College. These two individuals have strong ideas about freedom of expression but don’t have an art background.
Sujan Dangol and Rabindra Kumar Shrestha are both artists who have academically pursued this field. While Sujan is a graduate from Kathmandu University (KU) with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree, Rabindra is studying the same at KU.
The four come under the same roof to discuss the issue of freedom of expression in relation to the recent controversy of artist Manish Harijan receiving death threats for his painting series “The Rise of the Collateral” which has been accused of being anti-nationalist and anti-Hindu by Nepal’s Hindu fundamentalists. Below is the discussion that follows.
What’s freedom of expression?
Anamika: The ability to portray what I think and the freedom to do so is the freedom of expression.
Pravin: I think freedom of expression is about the right to give out information and thoughts without any interference.
Sujan: Freedom is important to people. Freedom of expression is about understanding the boundaries of anything and then rationally pushing it to give space to your own thoughts.
Rabindra: It’s simply the freedom to do anything that I want but in ways that doesn’t hurt others. Even if I want to walk nude, I should be able to do that given that it doesn’t harm anyone else.
What’s the stance of the freedom of expression when it comes to art?
Anamika: Artists shouldn’t care about boundaries and not be discouraged due to controversies. Something that I may find obscene may appear beautiful to some other person. Freedom of expression in art is about being true to your art and freely presenting your thoughts.
Pravin: I agree with Anamika.
Rabindra: Yes, an artist should portray his thoughts. But it isn’t necessary that the society will accept it. Whatever an artist does, it’s important to make sure he doesn’t harm other people.
Sujan: For me, what’s important is that no matter what an artist creates, he or she should be able to back it up with a strong statement about why he created it. That’s what conceptual art is all about.
What do you think is the divide between freedom of expression and the abuse of the same right?
Sujan: If an artist’s concept is strong and he can justify with strong reasoning, then “abuse of freedom of expression” doesn’t exist.
Anamika: There’s a thin, often overlapping line between freedom of expression and abuse of the freedom of expression.
Rabindra: When considering the world art scenario, oppositions on any artwork which challenges the traditional views of the society isn’t something which is new.
Controversies also depend on the time and space during which the art is being exhibited. There should be truth in what you’re trying to say through your work. That’s all.
Pravin: I think the same. However, communication is key in deciding what’s art and what’s blasphemy.
Do you think art should be regulated and should go under censorship before it’s made public?
Sujan: There’s nothing such as censoring art. The government is a non-living system and its laws don’t govern passion or love or pain. Art, on the contrary is about emotions. So there’s no grounds on which law can censor art.
Pravin: Art doesn’t have limits. How can one put boundaries on it?
Anamika: On what basis will one censor art and who’ll do it is also the question.
Rabindra: I find it very funny when people talk about censoring art. It comes from people who don’t understand art. And people who don’t understand art or who aren’t in this field can’t be given the authority to do so.
How do you see the controversy of artist Manish Harijan and his ‘The Rise of the Collateral” painting series?
Sujan: As an artist, he’s right in what he has created. That’s the beauty of conceptual and contemporary art. It allows artists with profuse freedom to express, but the trick behind it is the artist’s statement and explanation of that concept. I think Manish has failed in that sense. He should’ve given an official public statement about what his art is really trying to say when the controversy took place.
Anamika: When I first look at the paintings, it may appear offensive. But if I take a step ahead and understand the message behind it, then there’s nothing to take offense about it.
Pravin: True, the artist should’ve made more concrete efforts to get his message across. Controversy rises from difference in perception. It’s one thing to look at art for the first time and a whole different story to understand it.
Rabindra: Despite the negativity of the issue, this controversy has actually made people more aware about contemporary art. It’s just in its primary phases in our society and this issue has stimulated awareness amongst the public. The one who filed a complaint is obviously unaware about contemporary art but because of him, more people are talking about it.