Artist pulls out of own show, protests at display
By: Sonia Malik
LAHORE: Artist Waseem Ahmad, whose latest works were to go on display at Ejaz Gallery today, has pulled out of the show due to a dispute with the gallery owner over brochure publishing costs. Ejaz Gallery, meanwhile, has decided to go ahead with an exhibition of the artist’s miniatures, but of his older works acquired by gallery owner Muhammad Ramazan mostly in 2008.
Ahmad has contacted friends and journalists and urged them not to attend the Seen Unseen exhibition opening at Ejaz Gallery today, saying that the show should not be going ahead without his consent. He has also posted a complaint on Facebook.
Ramazan told The Express Tribune that he had sent a defamation notice to Ahmad and accused him of blowing a minor matter out of proportion. He said Seen Unseen, featuring 26 pieces by Ahmad, would go ahead.
The artist pulled out of the Ejaz Gallery exhibition – which was to feature 18 pieces of his recent work in a display titled Fragmentation – five days ago after a dispute with Ramazan over money.
Ahmad said that Ramazan had demanded that he pay Rs200,000 of the Rs300,000 total cost for publishing 500 catalogues, when the total cost, he had later learned, was no more than Rs120,000. “This is sheer dishonesty and I decided not to hold my show there. Now he is trying to make my old work seem like new work and is still opening on October 9,” he said.
Ahmad said that his name was also on the invitations for the opening, and on the invite on the gallery’s website and Facebook page, which were further misrepresentations on the owner’s part. “Galleries should not be showing works by living artists without their consent. I do not want him holding a solo show in my name,” he said. “He is trying to save the gallery’s reputation by putting mine at stake.”
The artist said that Ramazan had shown that he did not respect art or artists. “He just knows how to make money,” he said.
He said that he had called up around a hundred artists and his students – he taught at the National College of Arts until mid-2008, and now teaches at Lahore College for Women University – not to attend the Ejaz Gallery exhibition.
Ahmad said that his new works would now be showcased at Canvas Gallery in Karachi on October 23. The exhibition would be titled Fragmentation.
Ramazan said that Ahmad’s objections and his “Facebook campaign” against the gallery were “silly” but also damaging to his business and he had sent the artist a legal notice on defamation.
He said that the artist was mistaken about the cost of publishing the brochures, which he insisted was Rs300,000. He said that the gallery was not supposed to pay the cost of printing brochures. He said that it was unprofessional of Ahmad to have withdrawn from the exhibition and taken away his paintings just days before the opening and without informing him.
Ramazan said that the exhibition of Ahmad’s older works would go ahead. “It is a global rule: curators and gallery owners have the right to display the art they have legally acquired whenever they please,” he said. He said that a thousand people had been invited to the opening of Seen Unseen at 6pm on Tuesday.
To show or not to show?
Artist Ajaz Anwar, who is also former curator of the Zahoorul Ikhlaq Gallery and the author of 40 Years of Painting, said that he felt that the gallery had a right to showcase works it has purchased.
However, he said that galleries were not always honest about catalogue prices. “I published a thousand copies of a 170-page book for Rs250,000 just two years ago. Does it make any sense to spend Rs300,000 on a brochure of a few pages?”
He said that he had seen instances where private gallery owners and artists had fought and then the gallery had kept the artist’s works on display for longer than agreed. “I’ve seen galleries go on holding artists’ works for up to five years. Such practices are blackmail,” he said.
Anwar said that galleries and artists should sign formal contracts to avoid disputes.
Tanya Suhail, the curator of three galleries at the Lahore Art Council, said that she believed galleries should always get the artist’s consent before displaying their work. “It is his or her reputation at stake. Maybe Waseem Ahmad thinks his old work is not relevant today and so he does not want to display it. It’s his right to demand that the gallery not display it,” she said.
Art critic and artist Quddus Mirza said it was “highly unethical” of Ejaz Gallery to display the artist’s work without his permission. “It’s his decision. No gallery has the right to meddle with an artist’s reputation. Even when an artist has passed away, the gallery should seek the permission of the artist’s trust or heirs,” he said.
The curator of a gallery who wished to remain anonymous agreed that galleries should not show an artist’s works without permission. “Respect for the artist and artistic creations should be at the core of how a gallery handles art. Most owners are well aware of this. Even if the artist is deceased, permission is sought from his or her heir,” said the curator.
In early 2011, a similar debate was sparked after pieces by Mashkoor Raza were displayed at Revivers Galleria in Lahore.