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Politics in Indian art theme of show in Chicago

New Delhi, Feb 8 (IANS) When voices against freedom of expression in arts are getting shriller, "The Sahmat Collection: Art and Activism in India since 1989" will explore the connection between Indian art and politics, in Chicago.

The show at the Smart Museum of Art in the University of Chicago is a retrospective of progressive activism in Indian art in the political sphere and its power as a force for social change for the last 25 years.

It will be presented by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat) in Chicago Feb 14. It will celebrate 25 years of Sahmat, which was created in the memory of theatre activist, actor and playwright Safdar Hashmi, who died while staging a street play in New Delhi in 1989.

The show will address themes such as gag on freedom of creative expressions, intolerance in art, rising gender atrocities and curbs on women's rights in India, demolition of the Babri Mosque, the Ram temple controversy in Ayodhya, secular politics of India, and the slide in social justice mechanism from perspective of its representation in arts, co-curator of the exhibition Ram Rahman said.

"For the American viewer, it may help to see these works in the context of the culture wars as they play out in India," Rahman said.

He added that "Sahmat's projects also reflect the camaraderie and community spirit of the Indian art scene, where artists of different generations and philosophical outlooks still have a close-knit sense of community and purpose".

The exhibition, which will close in June, has been co-curated by Jessica Moss, associate curator for contemporary art at the Smart Museum, and Rahman, independent curator and photographer.

A symposium, "Voices of Change" Feb 16 combining panel discussions with performances will explain to the audience the significance of the exhibition and Sahmat's activism.

A movie, "Disrupted Divas: Conflicting Pathways", will look at the lives of marginalised women singers and dancers known as "tawaifs" from three communities of India.

The Sahmat Collection will feature 60 artists, including Manjeet Bawa, Atul Dodiya, Subodh Gupta, Zarina Hashmi, Rummana Husain, Bharti Kher, Pushpmala M., Nalini Malani, Gigi Sacria, Nilima Sheikh and Vivan Sundaram.

"Sufi musician and progressive intellectual Madan Gopal Singh, artist Gigi Scaria and I will represent Sahmat in Chicago in the first leg of the exhibition. The exhibition will close in Chicago in June with a performance by singer Shubha Mudgal," Rahman told IANS.

"It will travel across the US for two years, touching on the southern states and end at UCLA (University of California-Los Angeles) at Los Angeles," Rahman said.

"We will talk about the protest by the Durga Vahini against a nude art show at the Delhi Art Gallery. We will carry pictures of Durga Vahini. That's a part of the intention behind the Chicago show," Rahman said.

The exhibition will be divided into 12 segments, "Sahmat's Beginnings", "Images and Words", "Slogans for Communal Harmony", "Ayodhya: The Demolition of Babri Masjid and After", "Tribute to Gandhi", "Gift for India", "Art on the Move", "Ways of Resisting", "Re-asserting Secularism", "Free Speech and Defending Husain" and "Performance".

Recalling a similar exhibition at Columbia University in 1993, "Ham Sab Ayodhya (We are Ayodhya)", a photographic and textual documentation of the history of Ayodhya and its disputed shrine demolished Dec 6, 1992, Rahman said: "Twelve RSS activists attacked me in an open forum on Ayodhya and communal disharmony at Columbia University. They wanted to know how I could have a name like Ram Rahman or speak about 'Ramayan'."

"Cameraman Raghubir Yadav, who was with me, hit the activists and students came to my rescue," Rahman said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

Madhusree Chatterjee

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