An activist and artist collective based in New Delhi and founded in 1989, the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) is known for bringing attention to various social issues in India, particularly sectarianism and censorship. In addition to being an acronym for the organisation’s name, “SAHMAT” is the Urdu and Hindi word for “in agreement,” reflecting their goal of fostering communal harmony. SAHMAT organises and participates in exhibitions, protests and talks with other artists and activists, publishes books and makes posters. The collective takes up subjects of national attention and wide public discourse, focusing on India’s secular and cosmopolitan past, the Constitution, flashpoint moments of communal violence and significant resistance movements in India’s modern history.
The collective was formed in February 1989, a few weeks after playwright and activist Safdar Hashmi was fatally assaulted by Indian National Congress (INC) workers during a street performance in Ghaziabad, near New Delhi, on January 1st. The actor died from his injuries the next day, following which there was public outcry at the incident. Spurred by Hashmi’s murder, a group of his close associates founded SAHMAT, including photographers Ram Rahman and Parthiv Shah, theatre actor MK Raina and playwright Bhisham Sahni. Among the group's earliest publications is The Right to Perform: Selected Writings of Safdar Hashmi, which was launched later 1989. SAHMAT is closely associated with the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Janam, Safdar Hashmi’s theatre collective.
Many of SAHMAT’s projects mark important historical moments, such as the 70th year of the Indian Constitution, the anniversary of Safdar Hashmi’s death, India’s 75th Independence day, the ten-year anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition and the birthdays of artists who have an important place in India’s secular modern history, such as MF Husain. The collective has mobilised artists and activists for protest marches in response to political and cultural events and launched books and staged exhibitions to keep discourse on these subjects alive. Legally set up as a trust, the organisation is funded through donations.
Notable examples of SAHMAT’s cultural output are Artists Against Communalism (1991), a series of performances by artists staged in several cities, beginning with New Delhi; Slogans for Communal Harmony (1992), a campaign where slogans were written on the backs of auto-rickshaws and taxis in New Delhi; The Sahmat Collective: Art and Activism in India since 1989 (2013), an exhibition and catalogue launched at the Smart Museum, Chicago; and India is Not Lost (2021), held at Jawahar Bhawan, New Delhi.
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