Partition and Jallianwala Bagh

An Archive of 1919: The Year of the Crack-Up

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This anti-memorial came about as an investigation of the historical events that occurred in 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 declared its war of independence from the British empire in 1919.

There was another event that happened in the small town of 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 buildings. 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 Purna Swaraj or complete independence movement in India, which led to the Partition of India in 1947.

Using brass spittoons, small containers used in the early 1900s to expectorate spit, phlegm, chewing tobacco, etc., I make connections between events that happened in different parts of the world in 1919.  Discarded bodily waste (spit) functions as a metaphor for the counter-memories of these events, that a nation or a people forget, as if history itself were a cultural waste and was being discarded.

Each spittoon is enameled and etched with the name of an event and a map that locates the city and building in which the event occurred. This anti-memorial thus functions as an archive of the year 1919 in which the spittoons are containers of counter-memories.

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An Archive of 1919:

The Year of the Crack-up

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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.