Thiruvananthapuram | A group of eminent artists of Kerala have levelled charges of artistic fraud and plagiarism against an award-winning painter, alleging that majority of his celebrated works were actually those of struggling and unknown artists. However, Murali Nagapuzha, a recipient of several honours, including Kerala Lalithakala Akademi Award and central government fellowship, has rubbished the allegations, saying he would file defamation suits against those who had levelled false allegations against him.
The artists alleged that Nagapuzha, known for his unique paintings on landscapes and portraits, used to employ upcoming and struggling artists as ghost painters to get his works done. The controversy erupted as the state-run Language Institute is set to release a book on Nagapuzha today. Around 25 eminent artists, including Namboothiri, B D Dathan and Bose Krishnamachari, came out against him and issued a joint press note in this regard recently.
Nagapuzha has exhibited his paintings in New York, Moscow, London and Dubai besides in various venues in India. Noted artist T A Sathyapal, former secretary of Lalithakala Akademi, alleged Nagapuzha, in his three-decade old career, had duped several poor artists and marketed their works as his own and made a fortune. What he did was an artistic fraud. He promised to help several struggling artists, procured their works after duping them, exhibited at the national and international venues and gained fame and money, he said.
Satyapal alleged that even Nagapuzha’s famous paintings, including those on Malayalam writer Vaikom Muhammed Basheer and Indian-English author Anita Nair and his celebrated work Childhood Dream, were actually done by a Thrissur-based low profile artist K G Babu. The dirty game of keeping the genuine artists, who created the works, in the dark and using their intellectual and material labour to make money for himself is a heinous act, he said.
This is a mysterious case of an individual who uses the brilliance of artists, paying them paltry amounts, but who uses his own signature on those works and sells them as his own at a huge price. What this means is that the seller becomes clandestinely the artist, B D Dathan, former chief artist and state Encyclopedia, Kerala and Kaladharan, Director, Nanappa Art gallery, Kochi said.
K G Babu, who is claimed to have done majority of famous works of Nagapuzha, claimed Nagapuzha used to outsource painting works to him and his brother K G Vijayan. I had worked for Murali Nagapuzha for around nine years. He exploited my poverty and offered me foreign trips and good fortune to get the paintings done for him, he said. Babu said he specialised in portraits and claimed that most of Nagapuzha’s paintigs during 2003-2011, were actually done by him. He did not give me any credit to my work and offered only meagre remuneration. Due to my financial constraints, I could not oppose him during those days, he said.
He said he was raising the issue now as the government-run Language Institute is getting ready to publishing a book on him. The cultural world of the state should take up the issue with some more seriousness. If such an artistic fraud had happened in London or the US, it would have been treated in another manner, he said. However, Nagapuzha ridiculed the allegations, saying he was a self-taught painter who garnered recognition in India and abroad by his talent and the charges were just to damage his reputation as artist.
All these allegations are baseless. The only mistake I did was to open my home studio to poor artists like Babu years ago. I even helped him financially during times of emergencies, he said. The artist also said he had exposed corruption at the Lalitakala Akedemi when he was an executive member there some time back and it was also one of the reasons for some artists turning against him. Nagapuzha is also planning to file defamation suits at the Kerala High Court next week against all artists who levelled false allegations against him.
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