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February 26, 2013

Activist wants 'disrespectful' painting removed from exhibit

SALEM, Mass. — A Hindu activist who took on Comedy Central host Stephen Colbert last year is asking a Massachusetts museum to remove a painting he deems “disrespectful” from an exhibit on modern Indian art.

Rajan Zed, president of the Nevada-based Universal Society of Hinduism, criticized the “Ganapati the Warrior” painting in the exhibition “Midnight to the Boom: Painting in India After Independence" at the Peabody Essex Museum.

He said the 1977 painting, by Hindu artist Jogen Chowdhury, is a “disrespectful and inappropriate” depiction of Lord Ganesha, a Hindu deity.

A museum spokeswoman stressed that the painting is not meant to be disrespectful — quite the opposite.

“It isn’t meant to be a reflection on the deity, but more on business-minded devotees of the deity who are more interested in wealth than in religion or morality,” said April Swieconek.

The museum does not plan to remove the painting.

“We obviously stand by our artist,” she said. “There won’t be any change to the show.”

Last year, Zed asked Colbert to publicly apologize for a segment on the Democratic National Convention that included what Zed considered an unflattering depiction of Hindus, according to published reports. He also recently demanded that an online game company remove Hindu gods from a new action game.

In a press release on the PEM exhibit, Zed said Lord Ganesha was “meant to be worshipped in temples or home shrines and not to be thrown around loosely in re-imagined versions for dramatic effects or other agendas.”

The Peabody Essex traces its history in this colonial seaport to the 18th century founding of the East India Marine Society, a group of captains devoted to collecting "a cabinet of natural and artificial curiosities," according to the museum website. The Peabody Essex collection includes features maritime, Asian, Oceanic and American art.

The exhibition on modern Indian art is open through April 21.

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Tom Dalton writes for The Salem, Mass., News.

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