Oct 02 2019

Subodh Gupta Sues Anonymous #MeToo Instagram Account For Defamation

by Ophelia Lai

SUBODH GUPTA has filed a defamation suit against the proprietor(s) of the anonymous Instagram account Scene and Herd (@herdsceneand), which published accusations of sexual misconduct against the artist in December 2018 and January 2019. Image of Gupta in his studio, 2018, via Facebook. Copyright Subodh Gupta Studio.

On September 18, almost a year after allegations of his sexual misconduct surfaced on the anonymous Instagram account Scene and Herd (@herdsceneand), artist Subodh Gupta filed a civil defamation suit against the proprietor(s) of the handle, seeking an injunction and damages of INR 50 million (USD 703,000). 

The Delhi High Court granted an ex-parte ad-interim injunction against Scene and Herd that same day, ordering that a list provided by Gupta of the allegedly defamatory posts be removed from the Instagram page. Less than two weeks later, on September 30, the Court directed Google to remove URLs of those posts from the search engine’s results within 48 hours, and also requested that Facebook, Inc., the owner of Instagram, reveal the person or entity in charge of the handle by the next hearing, on November 18.

Scene and Herd first published allegations against Gupta on December 13, 2018, accusing him of being “a serial sexual harasser” and detailing several incidents of unwanted physical advances and lewd language. According to the post, he had groped several women, and, on one occasion, pointed at a gallery assistant and loudly asked his companion, “Do you think I should fuck her tonight?” In another post, dated January 20, 2019, an anonymous victim claimed that he had tried to grope her at a public art event on September 22, 2008.

Gupta categorically denied the allegations in a message to Mint the day after the first post was published, stating: “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. These allegations are entirely false and fabricated.” As a result of the controversy, Gupta stepped down from his position as guest curator of the 2018 Serendipity Arts Festival in Goa, and his talk at the festival, slated for December 16, was canceled. 

The artist’s advocate, Neoma Vasdev, told the Court that the accusations have caused “irretrievable and incalculable damage to the plaintiff, his family, his right to livelihood and reputation,” as quoted in the Times of India. Vasdev argued that “the defamatory posts refer to unnamed individuals’ veiled allegations against the plaintiff, without showing any proof whether they have taken permission from the said alleged ‘anonymous women,’ thereby breaching all relevant provisions of law.”

The suit is a blow to Scene and Herd, which started posting “personal experiences” of sexual misconduct, largely under the condition of anonymity, in October 2018 amid the global #MeToo movement. The account has riled the Indian art community with accusations levied against major figures, including artist Jatin Das; sculptor Valsan Koorma Kolleri; curator Rahul Bhattacharya; professor Mir Imtiyaz Ali; Kochi-Muziris Biennale co-founder Riyas Komu; and former Sotheby’s India managing director Gaurav Bhatia. The account’s last post, published on August 30 after a three-month hiatus, states: “We are still listening. It might seem quiet but do not for a second think our work is done . . . Not all work can be in the public eye and many in the Indian Art World are hoping everyone will forget . . . but rest assured we all still remember.”

Scene and Herd could not be reached for comment.

Ophelia Lai is ArtAsiaPacific’s associate editor.

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