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SAHMAT’s latest exhibition is an ode to the other India

INDSAHMAT’s latest exhibition is an ode to the other India

Urgent Saaru by Pushpala M

‘Moments in Collapse’, an exhibition by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) at Jawahar Bhawan, is a deeply political testament to the fast-changing democratic landscape of India. Curated by Gigi Scaria and his team, the show comes smack dab in the middle of the ongoing general elections. Its carefully curated art pieces question the uneasy status quo of the Indian socio-political scene.

“The timing was deliberate,” says photographer and artist Ram Rahman, who is a part of the curation team. “Artists are now aware that contemporary art too has become a target of narrativisation. SAHMAT has always taken a stand for a progressive, inclusive India, and this exhibition’s title conveys the sentiment that systems in India — administrative, parliamentary, and cultural — are being dismantled in a dangerous manner,” he says. 

The tone of the curated art is sombre, and many of the pieces are fairly direct. For instance, ‘She and the Lathi’ by Akshay Sethi depicts a simple watercolour sketch of the 2019 Jamia Milia Islamia lathi charge incident. But the work carries deeper meaning too, says curator Aban Raza. “Akshay, while making the piece, was researching the evolution of the lathi — from a rudimentary bamboo stick to a highly sophisticated hollow acrylic weapon — designed to inflict maximum pain,” she says. 

She and the Lathi by Akshay Sethi

She and the Lathi by Akshay Sethi
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In Shilpa Gupta’s drawings are clean outlines illustrating various frames of government crackdowns, but if you look closely, the civilian, swarmed by the carefully drawn faces of police personnel, remains curiously elusive in every iteration, as if his identity has been wiped out. 

A few other pieces employ a more evocative tone. Pushpamala M in her video experiment recreates her friend, the late journalist Gauri Lankesh’s rasam recipe, dressed in the garb of an Indian goddess. The piece is titled ‘Urgent Saaru’ – redolent, perhaps, of the dish’s deep, blood-red colour.

‘Blackboard and Future’, a series of photographs by Vicky Roy, features simple snapshots of school-going children posing in front of the blackboard in their classroom. Whether the writing on the board is in Urdu or Hindi doesn’t seem to matter to the children, who smile unselfconsciously. The piece is exceptionally sentimental and Aban explains that the photographer, who grew up homeless, now, after support from the Salaam Baalak Trust, teaches photography to underprivileged children. It is a piece come full circle.

InCollapse Zindabad by Ram Rahman

InCollapse Zindabad by Ram Rahman
| Photo Credit:

The most dramatic corner of the show is occupied by Shailesh B.R.’s ‘Melting Lotus’. Hundreds of orange wax flowers litter the floor by a cauldron, which is lit from below. Guests are invited to interact with the installation by placing a flower in the metal pot and watching it melt into a bucket below.

One of the walls, on one side, carries Murali Cheeroth’s large digital piece ‘Unmarked’, showing the desolation of Gaza after the months-long Israeli onslaught. The other side bears Pablo Bartholomew’s iconic photographs of the day after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, drawing an instant parallel. 


Ram Rahman’s piece is covered like bits of patchwork by smaller photographs of the worn, graffitied faces of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and Bhagat Singh, the background photograph bears the image of a dusty bust of Jawaharlal Nehru, framed by a heap of trash. “I found it lying in that very pile of waste, excreta and all, inside a building in Gole Market some years ago,” says Ram. In the bust, Nehru’s eyes are unseeing, but a sad, knowing smile plays on his lips. 

‘Moments in Collapse’ is on view at Jawahar Bhawan, Dr. Rajendra Prasad Road, till June 20; 9.30am to 7pm.

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