Indian artist Pranava Prakash ‘beaten up’ for painting nude celebrities

Indian artist Pranava Prakash, famous for his paintings of female celebrities in the nude, claims he was beaten up last weekend by men who said his work was an insult to his country.

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Prakash told Agence France Presse that a gang broke into a gallery where his work is currently on show in Noida, south-east of New Delhi, yesterday. The exhibition, titled "Bollywood Unlimited," features nudes of popular female actors including Vidya Balan and Veena Malik.

According to Prakash:

"Five guys came in on Sunday and started yelling at me, saying 'Your paintings are against Indian culture, we cannot tolerate them.'

"They slapped me twice, threw me to the floor and then began pulling down the paintings, damaging three of my pictures."

The owner of the Espace Alternative galley, Nishant Sinha, confirmed Prakash's account, telling the Times of India: "Nearly four to five persons stormed into the gallery and shouted slogans against nudity. When artist Pranava tried to pacify them, he was thrashed and his paintings torn."

Prakash is associated with a pop-art style that places well-known figures in unexpected and often compromising positions, and has been subject to controversy in the past. One Delhi gallery, for instance, cancelled a planned exhibition after it became known that Prakash had painted activist and author Arundhati Roy naked in bed with Chairman Mao and Osama Bin Laden for a work titled "Goddess of Fifteen Minutes of Fame."

The reported physical attack on Prakash and his artworks, however, is the latest sign that India's debate over freedom of expression is escalating. Ten days ago, alleged death threats from Muslim extremists prompted Salman Rushdie to cancel his appearance at the Jaipur Literary Festival, while protests at the venue made it too dangerous for the author even to address the festival by videolink.

Another artist, Balbir Krishan, was attacked in December shortly before the opening of his show on the theme of homosexuality, "Out Here and Now," the Hindustan Times reported. One of his paintings was destroyed, but the exhibition went ahead nonetheless.

Prakash told AFP that such attacks should not happen in an "inclusive democracy" such as India.

"There is a certain section of people who think they alone are the custodians of Indian culture, and anyone who disagrees with them is the enemy."

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