A collage created by the late Hema Upadhyay, where the artist pasted tapes on photographs of her mouth and eyes, rests in one of the halls of the Constitution Club in the Capital. Crafted a week before her gruesome death, it expresses the threat to an artist’s creative freedom, much like the remaining 45 posters, created by other prominent artists from Delhi and Mumbai.
Another poster by Ali Akbar Mehta shows a golden-hued human figure, being taken over by black, clown-like demons. Part of the day-long exhibition in Delhi, titled “Avaaz Do!”, these works rested beside enlarged newspaper clips representing “attacks on the freedom of expression and culture”, including those on Sudheendra Kulkarni, whose face was allegedly blackened by Shiv Sainiks in Mumbai, and also actor Shah Rukh Khan’s remarks about intolerance.
In the wake of the killings of writers, rationalists, members of the minority community and Dalits, and with many writers returning their national awards in protests, which made headlines in the recent past, organisers say “Avaaz Do!” was set up as a platform for artists to express their feelings using their creative side. It witnessed the participation of more than 40 artists — including Anju Dodiya, Jitish Kallat, Veer Munshi, Arpana Caur, Vivan Sundaram and Pushpamala N. The exhibition was part of the 27th memorial to theatre personality Safdar Hashmi, who was killed during a performance of his play Halla Bol on January 1, 1989, in Delhi’s Sahibabad area. Ram Rahman, co-founder of Sahmat, said, “These works are a way of artists expressing resistance against any kind of narrow ideology.”
Veer Munshi has drawn the enlarged figure of a screaming man in one of his works, appearing as if the protagonist is fed up with his environment. The outlined wings of a bird lie trapped under the clutches of the border of a grill gate in Sumedh Rajendran’s installation Foot on Vertigo.
“My work talks about transcending borders, that keep appearing and disappearing time and again. More than geographical borders, there are social borders that have been created in society that oppresses certain expression,” says Rajendran, adding, “We can feel the intolerance in everyday life. The timing of this exhibition is apt because everyone is feeling the kind of suffocation.”