Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, 1919
Pulling together historically significant events in 1919, Pritika Chowdhry’s “An Archive of 1919: The Year of the Crack-Up" catalogs the violence of British imperialism alongside global acts of resistance. The project consists of three components: a recreation of the Martyrs’ Well from the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, a series of fourteen brass spittoons, and a video of an existing memorial projected onto the wall of the gallery. The piece was on view at the Whittier Storefront Gallery in 2014.
Taking as its starting point the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, which catalyzed India's independence movement, "An Archive of 1919" functions as a visual and experiential archive of the year 1919. The project covers—the May Fourth Revolution in Tiananmen Square, China; the Turkish War of Independence in Istanbul, Turkey; the Russian Civil War in Kiev; the creation of the Weimar Republic in Germany; the Race Riots of Chicago in America; the Great Iraqi Revolution in Baghdad; the Third Anglo-Afghan War in Peshawar; the Red Flag Riots in Brisbane, Australia; the Egyptian Revolution in Cairo; the Third Battle of Juarez in El Paso; the Irish Declaration of Independence in Dublin—all of which took place in 1919. Drawing on F. Scott Fitzgerald's description of a crack-up—"the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function"—Chowdhry asks viewers to hold hold together various historical moments and conflicts to look for connections across space and time.
Another installation view of Tamas (Darkness): An Archive of 1919, at the Whittier Storefront Gallery, Minneapolis, MN.
Installation view of An Archive of 1919: The Year of the Crack-Up, at the Whittier Storefront gallery, in Minneapolis, MN.
The Martyrs' Well
On April 13, 1919, in a small town called Amritsar in Punjab, India, General Dyer led ninety British army soldiers into a small town called Amritsar in Punjab, India. There, he opened fire on a peaceful gathering of about 5000 unarmed men, women, and children in a public park called the Jallianwala Bagh where people could only enter or exit through one narrow passageway. The troops blocked this gate and fired until they ran out of ammunition. They gave no warnings to the people or opportunities to disperse.
In an attempt to escape the British army’s bullets, numerous people jumped into a well
Installation view of An Archive of 1919: The Year of the Crack-Up, at the Whittier Storefront gallery, in Minneapolis, MN.
within the park to escape. 150 bodies were recovered from the well after the massacre, which had over 2,000 casualties. This well is now called “The Martyrs’ Well.”
In “The Martyrs’ Well” section of “An Archive of 1919,” a well-like structure in the center of the gallery space using old, locally sourced bricks. This well references the Martyrs' Well in Jallianwala Bagh, but thus displaced, it becomes a precarious container of counter-memory. The well is created to look like a broken-down, crumbling well that is no longer in active use.
Jallianwalan Bagh Memorial
Close-up of the spittoon engraved with "Jallianwallan Bagh" and a map of Amritsar showing where the event took place, on the brick well.
In 1951, the American architect, Benjamin Polk, was commissioned to build a memorial on the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. When the memorial was built, local residents decided to preserve the bullet holes in the walls, which serve as evocative traces of the massacre’s violence. This memorial is what Pierre Nora describes as a lieux de memoire, which exhibits: “moments of history torn away from the movement of history, then returned: no longer quite life, not yet death, like shells on the shore when the sea of living memory has receded” (Nora 1989).
The Jallianwala Bagh Memorial in Amritsar, India.
The narrow entrance and exit of the Jallianwala Bagh site.
Bullet holes preserved in the Jallianwala Bagh Memorial.
The Martyrs' Well in Jallianwala Bagh, recreated in the movie "Rang De Basanti."
“When I visited the Jallianwala Bagh memorial in 2008, I became intrigued by this site,” Chowdhry explains. “The bullet holes in the wall had a visceral impact on me, and the access to the site is still through the same narrow gate, and hall, which made me a bit claustrophobic.”
The Video Montage
I created a video montage from my visit to the Jallianwala Bagh Memorial. The video montage shows this narrow entrance, evoking the visceral and claustrophobic atmosphere of the memorial. A few frames showing the reconstructed Martyrs’ Well from the movies, “Gandhi” (Attenborough 1982) and “Rang De Basanti” (Mehra 2006). As these images flicker on the walls, the video montage collapses the past and the present.
Spittoons: Containers of Counter-Memory
In “Containers of Counter-Memory,” Chowdhry uses fourteen brass spittoons etched with the name of a historical event and a map that locates the city and building where the event occurred. The spittoons representing the two central events of this anti-memorial, the Jallianwala Bagh and the Treaty of Versailles, are placed on the well, to create visual and historical focus.
Spittoons are receptacles for spit, phlegm, chewing tobacco, and other forms of waste. While spittoons were popular in the early 1900s, their use declined in the 1920s with the advent of mass-produced cigarettes. These spittoons, acquired from antique shops, serve as cultural and material artifacts of the early 20th century.
By transforming a receptacle for discarded bodily waste into an art exhibition, “An Archive of 1919” sheds light on the process of forgetting, and how a nation can treat history itself as a cultural waste. The transcription of a memorial on the outside of the spitoon turns this attempt at historical erasure inside out, transforming the spittoon into a container of counter-memory.
Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
Another installation view of An Archive of 1919: The Year of the Great Crack-Up, at the Whittier Storefront gallery, in Minneapolis, MN.
By reconfiguring the meaning of the spittoon, “An Archive of 1919” places itself in conversation with Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which represents the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre in a chapter titled Mercurochrome (Rushdie 1981). In this piece, the protagonist has a special relationship with a silver spittoon, an inherited family heirloom. The spittoon similarly becomes a vessel of individual and national memory. Rushdie's Midnight's Children is based on the eve of the Partition of India in 1947, on the midnight of 14th and 15th August.
Archive of 1919
In 1919: a Turning Point in World History, Alan Sharp and TG Fraser explain the significance of 1919 as a historical moment: "In Ireland, Egypt, India, China, and the Middle East, Britain, France, and Japan faced gathering resistance to their rule. Nationalist leaders like Gandhi, Saad Zaghlul, and Ho Chi Minh rose to prominence, while the leaders of the Irish rebellion against Britain enjoyed immediate success. In 1919 the world was poised between triumphant imperialism and emerging nationalism," (Sharp and Fraser 2014).
The events referenced in this project are listed below. Each event is memorialized by an individual spittoon that is etched with its name, and a map that locates the event geographically in the city and country where it happened.
Middle Eastern Theater of World War I
29 October 1914 and 30 October 1918
The Middle Eastern Theatre of World War I created the Middle East as we know it today. Allied and Central Powers fought numerous battles—Britain and India defeated Turkey, and Turkey fought Russia amongst other forces. Four years of fighting, conflict, and bloodshed came to an end with a peace treaty, signed on August 10, 1920. The Sykes-Picot secret agreement of 1916, which divided the Middle East into four zones of influence, was ratified in the Treaty of Versailles.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "Middle East Theater" and a map of showing the spheres of influence outlined in the Sykes-Picot secret treaty.
The Irish Declaration of Independence
21 January 1919
The Irish Declaration of Independence on 21 January 1919, conclusively marked the island as a sovereign state, independent from British rule. Notably, the declaration was preceded by ‘The Proclamation of the Republic’, a formal document asserting Ireland’s independence. The 1919 Declaration ratified the 1916 proclamation of the Easter Rising. The 1919 Irish Declaration of Independence honors the Easter Rising revolutionaries and concretely marks Irish freedom.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "Irish Declaration of Independence" and a map of Dublin, where the declaration was made.
The First Egyptian Revolution
8 March 1919 – 25 July 1919
The first Egyptian Revolution occurred from 8 March 1919 to 25 July 1919. Saad Zaghlul was a nationalist politician who fought for Egyptian self-determination. In 1918, the British rejected his demands to travel to Paris for the Peace Conference. Zaghlul and his political party were arrested and exiled, sparking the beginning of the revolution in 1919, where strikes and riots pervaded the city of Cairo.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "Egyptian Revoultion" and a map of Cairo, where the revolution occurred.
Brisbane’s Red Flag Riots
24 March 1919
Brisbane’s Red Flag Riots were born out of a combination of patriotism, xenophobia, and post-war trauma. The riots started on 24 March 1919 and lasted three days, during which around 8,000 Anglo-Australians turned against Russian communities in Brisbane and neighboring towns. On March 24 at the Russian Hall in South Brisbane, police surrounded the Hall on horseback and foot, carrying bayonets and rifles.
Despite being armed, rioters outnumbered law enforcement resulting in the injury of officers and their horses. Riots, looting, and destruction ensued, wrecking the Russian Hall and surrounding homes and shops. The Russians who were held responsible for the riots.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "Red Flag Riots" and a map of Brisbane, where the anti-Russian riots happened.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "Jallianwala Bagh" and a map of Amritsar, where the massacre happened.
Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre
13 April 1919
Central to Tamas is the Jallianwala Bagh massacre which occurred on 13 April 1919. Ninety British soldiers opened fire on a group of five thousand unarmed civilians. Walls standing ten to sixteen feet high surrounded men, women, and children. The soldiers directed their bullets at the crowds swarming the gate—the only means of escape. There were at least fifteen hundred deaths and over a thousand casualties. Included were those who had jumped into a well in desperation and subsequently drowned.
The Jallianwala Bagh Massacre became a rallying cry for India's Independence Movement.
May Fourth Movement
4 May 1919
Extreme patriotism and a passion for societal reform came to a head in China on 4th May 1919 at Tiananmen Square. The so-called May Fourth Movement saw over 3,000 students from colleges around Beijing uniting against the Versailles Peace Conference. The students burned the Ministry of Communications, assaulted China’s minister to Japan, and instigated strikes and boycotts against Japanese imports. After two months of demonstrations, the Chinese government yielded to the growing public opinion, officials resigned and China declined to sign the German peace treaty.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "May Fourth Revolution" and a map of Tiananment Squre, where the revolution happened.
Third Anglo-Afghan War
6 May 1919 - 8 August 1919
In February 1919, Amanullah Khan revoked the Treaty of Gandamak and announced full Afghan independence. Three months later, Afghan troops invaded British India on 6 May 1919. Realizing his flawed ambitions, Amanullah ordered a ceasefire on 3rd July 1919, and the Third Anglo-Afghan War ended with an armistice on 8 August 1919. Despite this supposed failure, Amanulla was successful in achieving his main goal—Afghan independence. The war ended with an armistice in the form of the Treaty of Rawalpindi which handed Afghanistan full rights over their foreign affairs.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "Third Anglo-Afghan War" and a map of Afghanistan, where the war happened.
The Turkish War of Independence
19 May 1919 – 24 July 1923
The Turkish War of Independence lasted from 19 May 1919 – 24 July 1923 and stood as a critical moment in modern Turkish history. Unrest stirred by the Greek occupation of Izmir – to which Mustafa Kemal retaliated by organizing a resistance. A series of military campaigns ensued against Greece, Armenia, France, Britain, and Italy. Meanwhile, Turkish nationalists turned on native Christian communities, resulting in massacres and riots, extending World War I’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ operations. The Treaty of Lausanne was finally passed in 1923, concluding World War I, signed by Turkey and Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, and Yugoslavia.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "Turkish War of Independence" and a map of Turkey, where the war happened.
The Third Battle of Juarez
June 15–16, 1919
The Third Battle of Juarez occurred on June 15 and 16, 1919. The battle marked the end of the first period of the Mexican Revolution and the last involving rebel leader Pancho Villa. Villa and fellow rebel leader Pascual Orozco led forces against the dictator Porfiro Diaz by launching an attack on federal troops at Ciudad Juárez. The attack incited an intervention by the US army, thus making the battle the largest of the Mexican Revolution to involve American troops. Villa and his men retreated, only to attempt and fail in a further attack on Durango. After the bloodshed of The Third Battle of Juarez, Villa withdrew from the front and was granted a full pardon.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "Third Battle of Juarez" and a map of Ciudad Juarez, where the battle happened.
Treaty of Versailles
28 June 1919
On 28 June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed into effect, and it is widely considered one of history’s most controversial armistice treaties.
The contentious ‘guilt clause’ blamed Germany for the First World War, leading to economic vulnerability and the opportunity for the rise of the Nazi’s. The treaty is thought to be a catalyst for the horror that ensued with Hitler’s reign over Germany.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "Treaty of Versailles" and a map of Paris, where the conference occurred and the treaty was signed.
11 August 1919
The grueling years of World War I left Germany economically and socially unstable. There was great resentment amongst the Germans towards those who had contributed to the Treaty of Versailles and its demonization of Germany – including their own government. The Weimar Republic earned its name from the assembly that adopted its constitution met at Weimar from 6 February 1919 to 11 August 1919. The Republic's first Reichspräsident ("Reich President"), Friedrich Ebert of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, signed the new German constitution into law on 11 August 1919. From 1919 to 1933, the Weimar Republic governed Germany.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "Weimar Republic" and a map of Weimar in Germany, where the republic was constituted.
The Race Riots
July 27 to August 3, 1919
The Race Riots of 1919 were initiated by white Americans in Chicago in America. Also called the Red Summer, it was part of a string of over 20 riots occurring directly after World War. On July 27, a white man stoned a Black youth to death who had accidentally floated into an area in the Michigan lake ‘reserved’ for whites. The police refused to arrest the man responsible, triggering an uproar amongst the Black community in the Chigaco South Side. Across 13 lawless days, 38 people died (23 Black and 15 white). Over a thousand Black families became homeless in an already overcrowded city.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "Race Riots" and a map of the South Side of Chicago, where the riots started.
The Russian Civil War
October - November, 1919
The Russian Civil War was an arduous battle for control of the country initiated after the October Revolution and was fought by various political groups with differing agendas and ideals. The two most significant fronts were the Bolsheviks and the Red Army. Because of the disparity between groups, the Russian Civil War was far-reaching and permeated all classes, political orientations, and the military. Britain, France, and America all sent troops in an attempt to quash the Bolsheviks. By 1919, sparked by the end of World War I, foreign troops began to withdraw from Russia. The Bolsheviks came out victorious, partly due to their highly successful and pervasive propaganda campaigns.
Spittoon engraved and enameled "Race Riots" and a map of Kiev,the epicenter of the civil war.
Bloody Sunday in Ireland
21 November 1920
Ireland faced violent attacks from the British during the Irish War of Independence. On November 21, 1920, IRA (Irish Republic Army) operatives visited homes and killed or fatally wounded 15 men in the British Army. Later that day, British forces raided a Gaelic football match in Croke Park and opened fire on the players and the spectators, killing or fatally wounding 14 civilians and wounding at least sixty others. Like the Jallianwallen Bagh massacre, this event came to be known as Bloody Sunday (1920).
Spittoon engraved and enameled with "Irish Declaration of Independence" and a map of Dublin showing where the event took place.
1982. Gandhi. Directed by Richard Attenborough.
Foucault, Michel. 1977. "Nietzche, Genealogy, History." In Language, Counter-Memory,
Practice, by Donald F. Bouchard, 160. Cornell University Press.
2006. Rang De Basanti. Directed by Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra.
Nora, Pierre. “Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire.” 1989.
Rushdie, Salman. 1981. Midnight's Children.
Widmer, Ted. 2019. "1919: The Year of the Crack-Up." The New York Times, January 1. Accessed November 21, 2021. https://www.carnegiecouncil.org/education/1919.
Young, James E. Fall 1997. "Germany’s Memorial Question: Memory, Counter-Memory,
and the End of the Monument." The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol 96, no 4 855.
Great Iraqi Revolution
In October of 1920, there were mass demonstrations against the British occupation in Iraq—known as the Great Iraqi Revolution. The announcement of new land ownership and burial taxes spurred the revolution and antagonized the tribal Shia regions. The revolution was a success in gaining greater autonomy for Iraq.
Even though this event occurred in 1920, it was directly caused by the political events of 1919 in Iraq and surrounding areas, and it is relevant to understand the contemporary nation of Iraq.
Spittoon engraved and enamelled "Great Iraqi Revolution" with a map of Najaf and Karbala, the primary sites of the revolution.