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The painting, an interpolation of The Last Supper was criticised by many, while others hailed artistic freedom.

The December issue of the Bashaposhini -one of the oldest literary review magazines in Kerala and owned by the Malayala Manorama Group- was abruptly withdrawn from circulation over the inclusion of Tom Vattakuzhy’s artistic interpolation of ‘The Last Supper’.

Controversy erupted over Vattakuzhy’s accompanying illustration for C Gopan’s play ‘Mrudwangiyudeh Durmruthyu’ (The Unnatural Death of a Soft-Bodied Soul) that is featured in the issue. The play itself is based on Vyloppilly’s poem ‘Narthaki’ (Dancer) based on a significant moment in the life of the Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan Mata Hari, who was executed on spying charges by a firing squad in France during World War I.

Reports say that the Management decided to withdraw the circulation of the latest issue of Bhashaposhini fearing that it would hurt Christian sensibilities, which could probably trigger a backlash of criticism coming its way. 

Social media however was in a furore over what it termed unwarranted muzzling of artistic freedom.

The magazine which had already printed and put out its December issue for circulation was forced to do a rethink, citing an error in one of the paintings included in it. But the copies that were dispatched by post had already reached the subscribers, with the Management unable to recall the same.

Vattakuzhy’s painting shows a half-naked dancer occupying the place Jesus has in Leonardo da Vinci’s classic 15th century mural. The dancer is seen surrounded by nuns who replace Jesus’ disciples in the original.

Sources say that anyone who has read both the poem and the play will not fault the artist for the accompanying illustration. Even though Vattakuzhy himself could not be contacted for his take on the controversy raging around his creation, support has been pouring in for him on social media.

That such an unreasonable diktat has come from one of Kerala’s literary and cultural publishing icons has added to the growing dismay among its readers. 

The Management is however reported to be firm in its decision to withdraw and re-issue new prints with the requisite modifications shortly.