Accused of censorship, National Art Gallery says curation based on ‘suitable maturity’ of visitors

Artwork from Malaysian contemporary artist Ahmad Fuad Osman’s solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery before it was removed. — Picture courtesy of Facebook/Ahmad Fuad Osman
Artwork from Malaysian contemporary artist Ahmad Fuad Osman’s solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery before it was removed. — Picture courtesy of Facebook/Ahmad Fuad Osman

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 11 ― The National Art Gallery (NAG) defended yesterday its controversial decision to remove four paintings by visual artist Ahmad Fuad Osman, saying it had the right to curate according to what it deems to be “suitable” for patrons.

The gallery said in a statement issued last night that the National Visual Art Development Board had deliberated and decided to take down the artworks according to standard operating procedure.

The gallery stressed that it has the right to remove any work “that touches the dignity of any individuals, religion, politics, race, culture, and the country.”

“An exhibition is a continuous process and not a final product, and even if the exhibition is ongoing, this process (of deciding) will continue to obtain suitable maturity of patrons and our society,” said Amerruddin Ahmad, the gallery’s managing director.

The four artworks were part of an exhibition titled At The End Of The Day Even Art Is Not Important (1990-2019) that started October last year. They were reportedly removed on February 4.

The move sparked a backlash from the art fraternity and rights groups. Yesterday, the National Human Rights Society (Hakam) condemned the NAG’s decision as a curb on freedom of expression.

Ahmad Fuad then penned an open letter yesterday demanding the NAG explain its decision. He has also since asked to close down the entire exhibition in protest.

Art installation from artist Ahmad Fuad Osman’s solo exhibition before it was removed. — Picture courtesy of Facebook/Ahmad Fuad Osman
Art installation from artist Ahmad Fuad Osman’s solo exhibition before it was removed. — Picture courtesy of Facebook/Ahmad Fuad Osman

Allegations of political meddling and censorship against the NAG is not new. In the past, there had been numerous similar cases where artworks were brought down following complaints by powerful or influential patrons.

Ahmad Fuad said he was told that the removal of his paintings was due to a complaint from one of the gallery’s board members, who alleged the pieces were political and obscene.

The NAG said its decision was in line with its mandate as a state-backed “institution”.

“The role of the gallery is an ‘institutional gallery’ funded by the government and therefore must act according to its norms and discipline,” Amerruddin said.

Hakam secretary-general Lim Wei Jiet said in a statement that the gallery’s decision to remove the artworks amounted to the censorship of artistic expression, which is a right guaranteed by the Constitution.

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