Where one wall narrated the history of a city marred by bloodshed, politics and conflict, another wall showcased landscapes of dissent, and the third acquainted us with the faces of struggle. Three exhibitions adorned the walls of the Constitutional Club annexe in Delhi. It was held to mark the 29th Safdar Hashmi Memorial, an annual event, organised by Sahmat, a trust constituted in the memory of the theatre director, on the first day of the new year.
The annual event marks the attack on the group of street theatre activists on January 1, 1989, which claimed Hashmi’s life. This year the trust is also commemorating the 25th anniversary of the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
The first exhibition, ‘Hum Sab Ayodhya’, was curated 25 years ago in Ayodhya and had travelled to 16 cities. Billed as the largest-ever voluntary collaboration of artistes of different genres, it traces the history and plurality of the ancient city. “Bajrang Dal had attacked the exhibition then and got a part of it banned,” recalls historian Sohail Hashmi, “And we went to court.” The panel in question traced the history of the epic Ramayana in India.The ban was ultimately lifted. The exhibition takes us through the history of the Ayodhya-Faizabad region, its place as a pilgrim site, travellers’ accounts, the significance of the town in various religions, and its architecture. In translation was a 700-year-old ghazal written by Amir Khusrau on the city, where he had spent two years of his life. “A town it is, but what a town, a garden,” he writes.
A month ago, a call was made to artists around India, to explore the violent manifestations that have taken place after the Babri Masjid demolition. Nearly 40 artists, across media responded, and ‘Beyond Disputes: Landscapes of Dissent’ is their interpretation of the event. The curator, 28-year-old, Aban Raza, talked about her lithograph, where she writes the first of the iconic slogan: ‘Ek Dhakka Aur Do, Babri Masjid Tod Do’. “When I speak to people who witnessed the demolition, I feel the resonance even today,” she says. ‘Who am I? A Hindu, A Muslim, A Sikh, A Christian A…A…A…A…or A Human’, asks a poster by Vibha Galhotra, while Rahul Aggarwal Shorewala, in another, asks, ‘How long can we tolerate?’.
In the exhibition, ‘The Parched Earth’, taking forward the idea of struggle and apathy of the farmers, photographer Ram Rahman brings together their portraits, farmers who had come from across the country to protest at Jantar Mantar last year. The photographs were taken by various students associated with Rahman. Beside this exhibit, was poet-photographer Mahender Singh Bisht’s poem, Rosh, where he vents his anger about ignorance of the farmers by the privileged.