Tamas (Darkness): A Record of 1919

This project is an investigation in the history of the year 1919, from a transnational perspective. It was the year after the first world war, and many significant events happened around the world - the Treaty of Versailles was finalized in 1919, other treaties of 1919 created the countries of the Middle East as we know it today, and Ireland’s war of independence from the British empire began in 1919.

There was another event that happened in a small town called Amritsar in Punjab, India on April 13, 1919.  Ninety British soldiers opened fire on a peaceful gathering of 5000 unarmed men, women and children in a garden called the Jallianwala Bagh, surrounded on all sides by walls of adjoining houses. Over 2000 people were killed, including 150 bodies recovered from the well. Though it was a footnote in world history, the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre as it came to be called, was the catalyst that launched the independence movement in India.

Using brass spittoons, which are small containers in which one expectorates spit, phlegm, chewing tobacco, etc., I seek to make connections between events that happened in different parts of the world in 1919.  Discarded bodily waste (spit) functions as a metaphor for the events that a nation or a people forget, as if history itself were a cultural waste and was being discarded.

Each spittoon is being etched with the name of an event and a map that locates the city and building in which the event occurred. Each spittoon will contain several scrolls containing historical information about the event inscribed on the spittoon and also the events that led up to it and/or were followed by it. The work thus functions as a record of the year 1919 in which the spittoons are containers of memory and the scrolls are archives.