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Artist's Works Removed From National Art Gallery Because They Were Deemed Too Obscene

The artist, Ahmad Fuad Osman, called the act of censorship "profoundly troubling and unacceptable".

Cover image via Ahmad Fuad Osman/Facebook

Four artworks from Malaysian contemporary artist Ahmad Fuad Osman's solo exhibition at the National Art Gallery (NAG) in Kuala Lumpur have been taken down despite the gallery's prior agreement to display all his installations

In an open letter on Facebook, Ahmad Fuad called on NAG to explain the reasons behind the move and requested them to close his entire exhibition immediately, and not remain open in its "compromised state".

"All the works that the curator and I proposed to exhibit at the NAG were submitted for the museum's consideration and feedback. The gallery agreed to all the works installed," the artist wrote.

"I was really hoping that this thing would never happen since everything went very well, from the first day of meeting and discussions until the show opened."

However, he wrote that the unexpected happened and he found this act of censorship "profoundly troubling and unacceptable".

Before.

Image via Ahmad Fuad Osman/Facebook

After.

Image via Ahmad Fuad Osman/Facebook

Four works were taken down on 4 February, leaving blank spaces on the walls of the exhibition that has been open to the public since 28 October last year

The installations were part of Ahmad Fuad's exhibition titled At The End Of The Day Even Art Is Not Important showcasing three decades of works from his career.

According to The Star, the artworks removed were Imitating the Mountain (2004), Untitle (2012), Mak Bapak Borek, Anak Cucu Cicit Pun Rintik (2006-2018), and Dreaming of Being Somebody Afraid of Being Nobody (2019).

"It has received enthusiastic reviews, and I have received many positive comments from peers in the art community, as well as on social media," he wrote about his exhibition.

Originally scheduled to close on 31 January, the gallery had even requested to extend the showcase until 29 February.

However in an unforeseen move, he said, "NAG sent me a letter on 21 January officially informing me that they wanted to remove the four works because a board member complained about them."

Before.

Image via Ahmad Fuad Osman/Facebook

After.

Image via Ahmad Fuad Osman/Facebook

Before.

Image via Ahmad Fuad Osman/Facebook

After.

Image via Ahmad Fuad Osman/Facebook

Ahmad Fuad wrote that NAG justified its decision to take down the pieces based on the complaint of a board member who found the works political and obscene

"This makes no sense," he said, "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?" he asked, adding that there were plenty of other "challenging material" throughout the exhibition.

He further questioned the identity of the board member and how a single person could override the decisions of the other members and the director whom had already previously approved his exhibition and its extension.

"It is arbitrary, unjustified, and an abuse of institutional power," he added.

Artist Ahmad Fuad Osman.

Image via Bank Negara Malaysia Museum

The Malaysian National Human Rights Society (HAKAM) has also since criticised the art gallery's decision to take down the artwork

According to Malay Mail, 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 protected by the Federal Constitution.

Lim said politics should not in any way be deemed as "sensitive, unsuitable, or undesirable" in the arts.

"In fact, the arts should readily comment, critique, and satirise politics in order to produce an enlightened electorate," he said.

HAKAM secretary-general Lim Wei Jiet.

Image via Yusof Mat Isa/Malay Mail

In their defense, NAG has released a statement regarding the matter, saying that they have the right to curate artwork in the gallery according to what it deems to be "suitable" for patrons

In a statement posted on Instagram, NAG said that they were following standard operating procedures in taking down Ahmad Fuad's artwork.

According to Malaysiakini, the gallery emphasised that it had the right to "remove any artwork touching on the dignity of any individual, religion, politics, race, tradition, or country".

"Exhibitions are a process and it is not the final product, even during the period of the exhibition, this process is always ongoing in order to achieve the appropriate maturity with that of our visitors and society," said NAG chief director Amerruddin Ahmad in the statement issued yesterday, 10 February.

NAG chief director Amerruddin Ahmad.

Image via Cultural Economy Development Agency

"The role of this gallery is as an 'institutional gallery' which is funded by the government and needs to operate based on its norms," he added.

It was further stated that NAG was not questioning the skills and credibility of the artist but it is of their opinion that certain artworks need a lot of guidance, explanation, and understanding of art in order to be appreciated and not misinterpreted.

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