The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Artwork hits culture-hub babu block

Three canvas paintings, 27 small paintings, one sculpture in bronze and seven photo canvases. Weight: approximately 150 kg. A carton of this description, bound in red tape at Dum Dum airport and stopped from making its journey to a gallery in the city centre waiting to host a special show by a special artist, has cast a cloud over Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s claims of Calcutta, the cultural capital.

Tomek Kawiak, a Polish sculptor of international repute, had arranged for an exhibition of installations on the theme of Durga puja at the Academy of Fine Arts. The display, the second on Tomek’s Asian schedule after China, was supposed to have started on November 3, but his exhibits have been lying at the cargo section since October 26 because of “irregularities” in papers.

“It is a scandal,” the 60-year-old resident of the French Riviera throws up his hands. “I have held around 100 exhibitions around the world. Nowhere have I faced such problems,” adds the exasperated artist, who has spent three years, two visits and 20,000 Euro (on only this visit) to prepare for the Pocket Durga exhibition.

Tomek landed in Calcutta on Monday, only to find his carton caught in a bind. He returned to the airport the next morning. “But the official in charge refused to talk to me,” says the sculptor, recipient of a gold medal at the Stockholm Art for Small Piece exhibition.

A phone call to his agent in France and a faxed message with changes in the invoice, as demanded by the authorities, a letter issued by the Academy of Fine Arts — all proved futile. Tomek was asked to shell out Rs 50,000 as customs duty (despite declarations that the exhibition will be a non-commercial one) or get a bank guarantor for the amount. On Tuesday, Team Tomek (his translator and his forwarding agent) ran around town, from the tourism office to the airport, knocking on numerous doors to beat the bureaucratic block, but to little avail.

One of the doors Tomek knocked on was that of artist Paritosh Sen, who met the Polish sculptor during his 2001 visit to town and was “very impressed” by his work. “This will send very bad signals to the international artist fraternity... So some consideration should be shown. My plea to the chief minister would be ‘Please help this man’,” says the veteran artist.

Adds director of Academy of Fine Arts Col A.K. Das: “Such petty bureaucratic hassles put the city back by 100 years. Calcutta holds few exhibitions of this level. Why must the city’s artists and art-lovers be deprived'”

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