Last year, the Instagram account Scene and Herd launched in an effort to kindle a #MeToo movement in India’s art community. The anonymous platform, which has just over 5,000 followers, labels itself a space for “Cutting through BS in the Indian Art world, one predator and power play, at a time.” Yesterday, September 30, a Delhi High Court ordered that Facebook reveal the identity of the account’s creator in response to a civil defamation lawsuit launched by Subodh Gupta, a contemporary artist who was anonymously accused of harassment on the platform.
On December 13, 2018, the page published allegations that Gupta, formerly a guest curator of the Serendipity Arts Festival in Delhi, had been sexually inappropriate with a number of the festival employees. “Although many people say to be ‘careful’ around him,” the post claims, “I have personally received multiple inappropriate advances and unwanted touching from him, even after clearly saying no.”
Other allegations made in the post are that Gupta “grabbed the hand, touched the stomach, breasts, shoulders, pulled at bra straps, rubbed the thighs” of several women, and “loudly asked a senior gallerist, pointing at a new assistant he had hired, ‘do you think I should fuck her tonight?’” On January 20, 2019, the page also posted another anonymous allegation against Gupta, saying that in 2008, he attempted to grope a woman at an art event.
In response to these accusations of misconduct, Gupta released a statement calling the allegations “entirely false and fabricated,” saying, “I deny the anonymous allegations made on the Instagram account @herdsceneand in their entirety; I have never behaved in an inappropriate manner with any individual who worked with me and several of my former assistants can attest to this.” He also resigned as curator of the festival.
Gupta filed a civil defamation case against Scene and Herd, seeking an injunction to block access to a number of web pages referencing the allegations. Gupta is seeking damages of Rs 5 crore (~$700,000). On September 18, 2019, the court passed an ex-parte ad interim injunction, ordering that the pages be removed from Scene and Herd’s handle.
India’s English-language platform News18 reported that yesterday, Delhi High Court Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw also ordered that in the following 48 hours, Facebook take down posts accusing Gupta of sexual harassment and Google remove the accusations from its search engine listings.
“It appears that the allegations as made in the allegedly defamatory contents, cannot be permitted to be made in public domain/published without being backed by legal recourse,” the court declared. “The same if permitted, is capable of mischief.”
Counsel on behalf of Facebook agreed to remove the posts and reveal the identity of the account owner in a sealed envelope on November 18 at the next scheduled court hearing.
Scene and Herd’s last post is dated August 29, informing its followers that “Not all work can be done in the public eye and many in the Indian Art World are hoping everyone will forget […] We will never forget and we stand by all survivors.”
In December of 2018, a group of protesters interrupted a Guerilla Girls performance at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale to read a statement addressing misconduct allegations against Gupta and Riyas Komu, one of the biennale’s cofounders. Gupta is listed as one of the Silver Patrons of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
In the wake of the allegations against Gupta and Komu, January of 2019, over 270 artists and art workers signed a “joint statement promoting safe spaces within the South Asian arts community.”
“Survivors who publicly tell their stories face serious forms of retaliation […] We strongly object to the use of defamation as a method to intimidate and silence survivors and those who represent their interests,” they wrote. “We call on all our peers; artists; curators; gallerists; collectors; writers; and heads of both public and private institutions to commit to the safeguarding of survivor accounts. We request them to rigorously advocate for open and supportive spaces that allow women, trans people, queer people, and those who have been disenfranchised by caste and class structures to voice their concerns and find support.”
Among its signatories are Shahidul Alam, Dhaka-based photographer, writer, and activist; Frances Morris, director of the Tate Modern; Tara Lal, director of Chatterjee & Lal in Mumbai; and artists Martha Rosler, Tania Bruguera, and the Guerilla Girls.
Gupta is represented by Hauser & Wirth, Galleria Continua, and Nature Morte galleries. Hyperallergic has not yet received a response to its requests for comments from both organizations.