Monday, April 22, 2013

Socially relevant art of Sahmat group on view in Chicago

A new exhibition at Smart Museum of Art in Chicago introduces one of India’s most renowned and active art-activist collaborations to the American audiences. The New Delhi-based, Sahmat group, serves as a platform for artists, writers, musicians, actors, poets, and artist-activists for creating and presenting creative works.

Its aim is to promote freedom of expression apart from celebrating secular, egalitarian values. It was formed after playwright-activist Safdar Hashmi’s murder while performing a street play. In over two decades since, it has drawn on the country’s secular heritage plus an expansive group of ambitious collaborators for projects, which nurtures socio-political engagement through a powerful mix of high art and street culture.

Socially relevant art of Sahmat group is a major turn in India’s recent art history that the Chicago-based institution has decided to focus on, something which is quite significant. An introductory essay mentions: “Animated by the urgent belief that art can propel change and that culture can reach across boundaries, Sahmat has offered a platform for an expansive group of artists and collaborators to present powerful works of art that defend freedom of expression and battle intolerance within India's often divisive political landscape.”

The Sahmat showcase includes works done in a wide array of media by artists such as Manjeet Bawa, Zarina Hashmi, Atul Dodiya, Rummana Husain, Subodh Gupta, Pushpamala N., Bharti Kher, Gigi Scaria, Nalini Malani, Vivan Sundaram and Nilima Sheikh among others.

A kaleidoscopic survey of art and ephemera looks to assess the impact of this unique and at times controversial group focused on contemporary Indian art and society in general. The exhibit is accompanied by a publication, which gives new interdisciplinary perspectives on the collective and investigations into the country’s history, politics, and culture.

Situating the collective within not only the political sphere in India, but also contemporary art trends from around the world, it contains both critical essays on the art produced by Sahmat and insightful texts on the prevailing artistic, political and social climate in India.

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