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Ayodhya in art

Madhur Tankha
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An eclectically assembled exhibition depicts a different side of the Babri Masjid issue

EXHIBIT:From ‘Hum Sab Ayodhya’.
EXHIBIT:From ‘Hum Sab Ayodhya’.

To celebrate Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust’s completion of 24 years, its highly popular exhibition titled "Hum Sab Ayodhya", a tribute to the unique history, pluralistic culture and proud civilization of this ancient city, is currently on at the Smart Museum of Art in the University of Chicago. This project is an acknowledgement of the fact that Hindus and Muslims have been living together in a congenial atmosphere for centuries before the Babri Masjid was erased by the Hindu fundamentalists. Billed as the largest-ever voluntary collaboration of artistes of different genres for a common goal, the exhibition has been put together by historians, sociologists and researchers who did extensive research work for the exhibition. The exhibition includes postcards inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings, messages of love decorated on auto rickshaws, illustrated books on children and paintings speaking against religious nationalism. Apart from pertinent messages like "Let Us Defend Our Secular Tradition" and "We Are All Ayodhya", there are also five-inch-cubes that were presented as gift boxes to India on the 50th anniversary of its independence. "It was a different kind of show as speakers from India and the United States explained how the politicians are interfering in the field of art in a forum titled ‘Art and Politics’. We also explained how SAHMAT has been using art to make political statements," says SAHMAT founder Ram Rahman.

SAHMAT, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, is an organisation dedicated to furthering and protecting pluralistic and democratic creative expression. Pointing out that after the shocking demolition of the Babri Mosque at Ayodhya in 1992 the atmosphere in the city and other parts of the country was vitiated, Ram says: "As SAHMAT has been articulating its thoughts and presenting inter-disciplinary works promoting secular egalitarian values, we undertook a year-long series of events. However, the ‘Hum Sab Ayodhya’ exhibition was vandalised by the fundamentalists. We challenged the ban and emerged victorious after a prolonged eight year court battle. "Depicting a complex subject with many works of art, the exhibits are drawing widespread praise. Describing the response to the U.S. exhibition as phenomenal, Ram says that "by placing our work in the context of the cultural wars being fought in the U.S., people clearly understand the context of our work." The exhibition is on till June.


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