On the 59th birth anniversary of noted playwright,poet and street theatre artist Safdar Hashmi,the Chicago University Museum is putting up for show an exhibition on Sahmat,the organisation formed after his death,while also publishing an accompanying book.
Founded as a restive response to Hashmi’s death,the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat) released here last evening,”The Sahmat Collective: Art and Activism in India since 1989,an accompaniment to the four-month exhibition hosted at the Smart Museum of Art,University of Chicago.
“Smart Museum at the University of Chicago is currently hosting the Sahmat exhibition. And,I can’t see a more opportune and fitting tribute to Safdar,whose birth anniversary falls on April 12,” Sahmat co-founder and photographer Ram Rahman told PTI.
Rahman,who also edited the book along with Jessica Ross,says that the collective is a “work of almost three years of labour” and “incorporates excerpts from the various works and projects that Sahmat has been doing” in the last 24 years or nso,which the exhibition is currently celebrating.
“To produce the book we have sourced the Janam (Jana Natya Manch) archives for old pictures of Safdar’s life and ntimes and his various street performances,and have mover 430 images in full colour as a comprehensive documentation of Sshmat’s activism over these years,” says Rahman.
So,the collective has works of various artists that the organisation has collaborated with over its 20 years of existence and crystallizes the philosophy of “art community sans sectarian divisions” by presenting glimpses of its “Ham Sab Ayodhya” work in the aftermath of the 1992 Babri Mosque demolition,among others.
“Sahmat has always drawn on India’s secular heritage and through its works and projects have also raised voices against art censorship and has engaged the ases and intellectuals alike in important social and political debates through a mix of high art or street culture,” says Rahman.
In fact,the 1990s project which had involved a pan-Delhi contest of slogan writing on auto rickshaws and taxis became a landmark even in the Sahmat’s calendar and is currently turning heads at the Smart Museum.
“The exhibition has received great reviews in the US and the red auto rickshaw with black canopy,bearing the secular messages slogans have turned heads there,” says the noted photographer. Perhaps,it was a first time in the 90s when a social group acknowledged and celebrated the rickshaw body art,although it is so ubiquitous by its presence otherwise.
Ever since the playwright,known for his open defiance to political diktats and social dogmas,was fatally attacked on January 1 on the outskirts of Delhi,the group formed in his memory says it has been attempting to promote “freedom of expression” espoused by late Hashmi’s ‘Jana Natya Manch’,a theatre group he had founded in 1973. Hashmi’s brother Sohail Hashmi,academic and activist and an avowed “Dilliwallah” remembers the day Safdar fell.
“On January 1,1989 while performing ‘Halla Bol’ at Jhandapur near Sahibabad,barely 23 km from Delhi,with his street theatre group,Jana Natya Manch (Janam),Safdar was nattacked by ruling party henchmen. He died the next day (Jan n2),” says Sohail.
Janam went back to the site of attack and finished the play. On April 12,1989 was launched the Safdar Samaroh and was
decided to to observe the same day as National Theatre Day.
In his honour,the “College Road” in Mandi House was
renamed as “Safdar Hashmi Marg” after his death,by the Delhi
Theatre veteran,M K Raina,an old friend of Safdar,who also attended the book launch,recalled Safdar’s contribution in rewriting the grammar of street theatre and according it new a meaningful genre.
History doyenne Romila Thapar and renowned artist Jatin Das also attended the function. “The book is priced at Rs 2000 but had it been published in India with such rich content and colour,the prices would have shot up. Also,the exhibition will travel to University of North Carolina in September later this year and to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2016,” Rahman told.