Local artist Ahmad Fuad Osman, whose work is exhibited at the National Art Gallery, wrote an open letter on his social media protesting the gallery's decision to remove four of his works from the exhibition entitled 'At The End, Even Art Is Not Important (1990 - 2019)'.
We managed to go for the exhibition last week, and we have to say, the four works were some of our favourites, and we're just as disappointed by the removal as the artist.
In the open letter, Ahmad Fuad expressed his disagreement on the move and questioned why the censorship is just happening now when the whole exhibition was previously discussed and approved.
The free exhibition has been at the National Art Gallery since October and was scheduled to be held until the end of February.
"On 7 February, I wrote to Balai stating that I found this act of censorship profoundly troubling and unacceptable. It is arbitrary, unjustified and an abuse of institutional power. I asked them to fully explain their reasoning, requesting answers to my questions about their process and reasoning.
Their decision, and the explanation provided lacks transparency and accountability," he wrote.
Ahmad Fuad called for the gallery to remove the entire show instead of leaving it open "in its compromised state."
According to the post, the gallery removed the four works because one of the board of directors complained about it.
"Balai justifies their decision on the basis of a single Board Member complaining that these works are obscene and political. This makes no sense. Contemporary art in Malaysia has always challenged conventions and has consistently made political commentary.
"Why these particular four pieces and not any of the others? There is plenty of challenging material throughout the exhibition.
"Who is this Board Member? How is it that this one person over-rides the rest of the Board and the Director, who collectively approved my exhibition proposal and, furthermore, requested the exhibition extension? What is the process here?," he questioned.
Netizens in full support
Frankly, we'd like to know too! What will happen to our society if art and critical thinking are continuously suppressed?
We have to agree with Ahmad Fuad that the issue is bigger than one artist's work but rather the integrity of arts in Malaysia.
Social media users also expressed their support to Ahmad Fuad on his post.
Masnoor Ramli Mahmud wrote: "Bertabah la Art. Inilah dia... dunia sudah tanpa sempadan tapi lucu dalam ‘kotak’ pemikiran...apa2 pun sudah jadi sejarah dan ia masih berlaku di abad 21 di tahun 2020. umpama Dracula takut mati kerana...✌️
Another Facebook user, Fuan Wang commented: "You mean you don't know Art Here is only about Pretty pictures? You mean you dared to put on something that might make people ponder and wonder and think,and maybe take or admit an alternative view? They might start thinking for themselves, God Forbid! can't have that now,can we?"
Art gallery responds
Following the open letter, the gallery released a statement defending its actions.
The statement said that the gallery as curators has the right to remove any artwork “that touches the dignity of any individuals, religion, politics, race, culture, and the country.”
Malay Mail quoted the gallery managing director Amerruddin Ahmad as saying that exhibitions are not the final product, and the gallery can remove any work deemed unsuitable for its patrons.
It is unfortunate to see our already floundering art scene going through such a trial. How are we going to encourage local talent if this is how art is treated?
Could this be why many local talents only achieve great things when they leave the country?