ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

Ergonomics of 'Photography is Prohibited'

National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi was celebrating Amrita Sher-Gil's birth centenary by exhibiting her major works. I heard about it on Twitter.

I first read about Amrita Sher-Gil in a school text book. Although primary education in India barely touches arts, somehow Amrita Sher-Gil is mentioned in context of formation of modern India. The half-Sikh girl from Budapest who painted rural Indian women is celebrated. I had seen her paintings browsing the net, most famous of them easily available even though her wiki page only offers two paintings.

Since I was in Delhi for a day, I decided to drop in.  I was going to check out India’s National Gallery of Modern Art. The reason was simple: I was familiar with the works, inspired and wanted to see the painting in flesh.

I took my camera along even if I knew it would be useless.

Of course, here too I ran into ‘Photography is Prohibited’.  Of course, I took photographs. Smart phone came in handy. I was forced to break this idiotic law.

My purpose was simple: more people need to get familiar. And you never know what it can lead to. Sample this: In 2011, I came across a photograph of Devika Rani in an old film magazine. The photograph was originally shared by a Bombay based film society. The photograph was appealing. I shared it around on my blog. The image anonymously traveled quite a bit of Tumblr.  In 2014, I found out that artist Chitra Ganesh has made an artwork out of it. That’s the way art and internet work. Ideas are consumed to produce new ideas. Content is consumed to produce new content.

‘Photography is Prohibited’ clearly does not fit into this scheme. It is an obvious deterrent to the flow of ideas.

What purpose does it serve?

The works were acquired using public money, the official site of the museum clearly states that most of the works are in public domain. So why the prohibition? It seems like an aberrant attack on some basic right of the citizens.

What kind of dogma makes the babudom put up that sign and religiously enforce it? And it is the same story at all such government establishments. At NGMA, the click of camera phone alarmed the guards. Duty called. They were practically trailing me the entire time. I was forced to take photographs like a voyeur.

Why do we still have to deal with this nonsense? They should have been organising ‘live-tweet’ events.

I always get a feel that they are always trying to create a false scarcity to generate demand. Like they are selling Onions. They always say, we want people to come and see it HERE. And what purposes will that serve? It can’t be monetary gain. The entrance ticket only costs a “Nehruvian” sum of ten rupees.  That’s again interesting. The kind of people in the gallery, including me, could certainly afford more.

The idea, I believe, is that the common man should have easy access to high art. Nice, well intentioned thought. But, what will the common man do with the fact that to truly understand and appreciate the painting he saw for rupees ten, he has to spend more than two thousand rupees on a book explaining the works of an artist and his craft. The tickets should be higher and the books definitely cheaper. Maybe, only by reading those books will he get the confidence to utter the nagging thought at the back of his mind, “Lighting and its arrangement in the Gallery is definitely not suited for oil paintings? The blinding white glare at odd angles hides all the beauty of brush strokes. It’s a jugadu  job at best.”  

About Author

<p>Vinayak Razdan ( is a social games designer. Co-founder of a mobile technology startup. In spare time, building an online cultural archive of Kashmir. &nbsp;</p>
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