Ackland Art Museum Presents “The Sahmat Collective: Art and Activism in India Since 1989”

August 21, 2013
Ackland Sahmat

Ackland Sahmat

For more than 20 years, the influential, Delhi-based artist collective Sahmat has enabled Indian artists in all media to create and present works that engage in important political and social debates.

In September, the works, and perhaps those debates, are coming to Ackland Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In the first major exhibition about the group organized for U.S. audiences, “The Sahmat Collective: Art and Activism in India since 1989” will be on display Sept. 13-Jan. 5, and will present more than 60 artists, including Manjeet Bawa, Atul Dodiya, Subodh Gupta, Zarina Hashmi, Rummana Husain, Bharti Kher, Pushpamala N., Nalini Malani, Gigi Scaria, Nilima Sheikh and Vivan Sundaram.

The exhibition includes paintings, sculpture, prints and photographs alongside collaborative works, performances and rich interpretive materials.

“It encourages a thoughtful assessment of the impact of this unique, multi-faceted—and sometimes controversial—collective on contemporary Indian society,” said Ackland Chief Curator Peter Nisbet, “and also adds a dynamic and stimulating chapter to the history of activist art worldwide.”

Sahmat was formed in 1989 in the weeks after playwright, actor and activist Safdar Hashmi was fatally attacked by political thugs while performing a street play. It is an expansive network of Indian artists and intellectuals—painters, sculptors, writers, poets, musicians, actors and activists—who create powerful and vibrant works of art in defense of freedom of expression and in celebration of secular, egalitarian values.

Through a mix of high art and street culture, Sahmat artists take a consistent stance against the threats of religious fundamentalism and sectarianism.

“For the American viewer it may help to see these works in the context of the ‘culture wars’ as they are playing out in India,” said Ram Rahman, the exhibition’s co-curator. “Sahmat’s projects also reflect the camaraderie and community spirit of the Indian art scene, where artists of different generations and philosophical outlooks still have a close-knit sense of community and purpose.”

Sahmat is both an acronym for the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust and the Hindi word for “in agreement.” Engaging a broad base of collaborators—from celebrated artists and scholars to writers, musicians, and rickshaw drivers—the group pursues a mission of resistance against the forces that threaten “the essentially pluralist and democratic spirit of creative expression in India.”

At the Ackland, “The Sahmat Collective” will examine the group’s key projects from 1989 to the present day, including street-based mobile performances, large cultural sit-ins and conceptual exhibitions.

For more information about Safdar Hashmi and the founding of Sahmat; exhibition themes and sections; and Ackland Art Museum, visit


Ackland Art Museum contact: Emily Bowles, (919) 843-3675,

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