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Monday, 4 September, 2000, 18:03 GMT 19:03 UK
Storm over nude art in India
Gandhi statue
National icons have often been subject to controversy
A row has broken out in India after a painting containing a nude figure was removed from an art exhibition in Delhi on the grounds that it was offensive.

The picture depicts a naked Greek mythological figure - Icarus - perched on top of India's national emblem - the Ashokan pillar.


These works will be seen - no matter what the government does

Art critic Sunit Chopra

It was withdrawn over the weekend on the instructions of the culture ministry, which reportedly feared it might prompt objections from nationalists.

All 25 artists taking part in the exhibition, Voices for the New Century, have now withdrawn in protest at what they consider an attack on their freedom of expression.

The painter of the controversial canvas, Surendran Nair, said he was shocked by the decision.

"I cannot understand how my painting of the Ashoka Pillar with the Greek mythological character Icarus standing on top of it can be constituted as a slight to a national symbol," he told the French news agency AFP.

Ashok pillar
The Ashoka Pillar is India's national emblem
The Ashoka Pillar dates back to the reign of Emperor Ashoka, who ruled India from 273-232 BC.

It depicts four lions mounted on a circular abacus with a wheel at its centre.

Adopted by India as its national emblem, it is used in currency notes and as a government seal.

In Greek legend, the mortal Icarus - seen as a symbol of excessive ambition - made himself wings out of wax and tried to fly, but went too close to the sun and so fell into the sea when the wax melted.

Anger

Artists and critics attacked the painting's removal, saying that the government had no right to define what constituted blasphemy.

Art critic Sunit Chopra told the BBC those in authority could not define or limit artistic expression.


The ancient Indian Khajuraho temples are famous for their erotic architecture

An artist
"These works will be seen - no matter what the government does," he said.

Another artist, who did not wished to be named, said he could not understand the government's stand.

"The ancient Indian Khajuraho temples are famous for their erotic architecture. Why pick on this tiny image of Icarus? It hardly qualifies as smut," he said.

Last month a dress made out of the national flag set off a political and legal debate in India and led to police action against the designer.

The dress was exhibited at a fashion show in Delhi.

Private citizens are not allowed to display the national flag or use the national emblem and many have argued that these symbols should be freed from such restrictions.

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See also:

24 Aug 00 | South Asia
Flag dress causes a flap
11 Apr 00 | South Asia
Gandhi film arouses passions
30 Jan 00 | South Asia
Plug pulled on sacred city film
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