Artist: I did not consent to allow NAG to remove artwork

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Updated with Anwar Ibrahim's comment on the matter

Visual artist Ahmad Fuad Osman has denied giving consent for the National Art Gallery (NAG) to alter an ongoing exhibition of his work.

This comes after the government artspace removed four pieces from his solo show entitled “At The End of The Day, Even Art is Not Important”.

NAG later explained that it had the rightto remove exhibited work and said it had previously “discussed” the move with Fuad.

In a statement today, Fuad refuted NAG’s claim and clarified his prior correspondence with it.

“I am very grateful to the NAG for our collaboration. But a collaboration is based on mutual trust, respect, understanding and agreement.

“In its statement, the NAG asserts that we had discussed the removal of my works, and implies that I consented to it. This is untrue.

“As I explained in my open letter, I was notified in advance. But the guest curator Shabbir Hussain Mustafa or I never met with the NAG to talk about the matter, and I certainly do not agree to the removal.

“All that the NAG has said - to me directly, and to the public through their statement - is that they are removing my works based on complaints [...],” he said on his public Instagram account.

He further questioned the number and nature of said complaints.

Fuad pointed out contradictions between NAG’s letter to him and its press statement, in the former it said that a single board member had complained while in the latter it explained that the art was removed following “response and complaints from the public”.

The artist reiterated his request that NAG close his exhibition “immediately” in protest of its censorship.

“Censorship is primarily an ethical issue, not a contractual one,” he said.

Transparency at stake

Elaborating, Fuad questioned why NAG had removed his artwork several months into the exhibition.

His exhibition opened on Oct 28 last year and is supposed to end on Feb 29.

“What is at stake is transparency and accountability.

“Surely the NAG does not always and automatically remove artworks whenever it receives a complaint from anyone. There must be a process of deliberation.

“What process did the NAG Board follow in deciding to remove my works? How did it identify those particular works over others? Did anyone at Balai defend my works, and the board’s prior decision to exhibit them?” he asked.

The NAG previously said its decision to remove some of Fuad’s work was made during a board meeting, adding that such decisions had been made for other exhibitions in the past.

It’s director, Amerruddin Ahmad explained that the gallery had found some of Fuad’s work needed additional “guidance, explanation and a high level of art-knowledge” to avoid being “misunderstood”.

The four artwork in question are Untitle 2012; Dreaming of Being Somebody Afraid of Being Nobody; Imitating the Mountain 2004; and Mak Bapak Borek, Anak Cucu Cicit Pun Rintik.

Two of these depicted the likeness of PKR President Anwar Ibrahim.

In light of the controversy, Fuad proposed that the gallery organise public consultations and fora on the issue.

Asked about the matter today, PKR president Anwar Ibrahim called for more tolerancewhen dealing with different opinions.

View this post on Instagram

1. I read Balai Seni Negara’s (henceforth, Balai) media statement, dated 10 Feb 2020, on the censorship of my artworks with regret and concern. I would like to repeat my request for the immediate closure of the exhibition, a request that remains unaddressed. 2. Censorship is primarily an ethical issue, not a contractual one. 3. It bears repeating that I am very grateful to Balai for our collaboration. But a collaboration is based on mutual trust, respect, understanding and agreement. 4. In its statement, Balai asserts that we had discussed the removal of my works, and implies that I consented to it. This is untrue. As I explained in my open letter, I was notified in advance. But the guest curator Shabbir Hussain Mustafa or I never met with Balai to talk about the matter, and I certainly do not agree to the removal. 5. All that Balai has said — to me directly, and to the public through their statement — is that they are removing my works based on complaints. In their direct letter to me, they said a single Board Member complained. Now, in their public statement, they claim they also received public complaints, and that their decision is a collective one by the Board. 6. What is at stake is transparency and accountability. Surely Balai does not always and automatically remove artworks whenever it receives a complaint from anyone. There must be a process of deliberation. What process did the Balai Board follow in deciding to remove my works? How did it identify those particular works over others? Did anyone at Balai defend my works, and the Board’s prior decision to exhibit them?

A post shared by Ahmad Fuad Osman(@osmanahmadfuad) on Feb 11, 2020 at 7:28pm PST