Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories:
Partition Anti-Memorial Project
Art Exhibition commemorates the 51st anniversary of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War
August 6 - December 10, 2022
South Asia Institute, 1925 S Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60616
“Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories” addresses the Bangladesh Liberation War through art installations that serve to educate and evoke empathetic responses in viewers. Pritika Chowdhry’s anti-memorials create alternate ways to remember and memorialize traumatic geopolitical events, from the dual lenses of diasporic postmemory. Evoking corporeal bodies through a myriad of materials, the exhibition highlights generational resilience and resistance.
India's independence in 1947 created East and West Pakistan as the result of the Great Partition. Shortly thereafter, East Pakistan started agitating for independence from Pakistan, which resulted in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Pritika Chowdhry’s exhibition “Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories” investigates the 1947 Partition of India, and the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War. The 1971 war was another partition, albeit this time of Pakistan. Chowdhry’s experiential art installations are temporary anti-memorials to these two violent and bloody Partitions.
In 1947, over 20 million people were displaced in an unprecedented mass migration in history. Approximately 2 million people died in the communal violence across the new border, called the Radcliffe Line. What is lesser known is that over 300,000 women are estimated to have been raped and sexually violated during the Partition riots.
In 1971, over 30 million people were displaced internally and across the border, about 3 million people were killed in the war, and about 400,000 Bengali women were subjected to rape as a weapon of war. After the war ended, the new Bangladeshi government euphemistically termed the women as "Birangonas," or brave women. Nayanika Mookherjee has called this the "spectral wound" of Bangladesh. Their story has been both appropriated and erased in the service of the new nation, and on this 51st anniversary of the war, it is appropriate that we remember the Birangonas on this day.
“Moving to the US in 1999, I was struck by the widespread lack of awareness of the Partition of India and Pakistan, and the Bangladesh Liberation War, for people that lack a personal connection to the events. I realized the urgent need of addressing these two Partitions within my work. With the guidance of my grandparents’ firsthand experiences of the Partitions of 1947 and 1971, I began creating artworks in 2007 to bear witness to the trauma of the Partitions and their enduring effects through the lens of diasporic post-memory,” the artist comments.
The Partition Anti-Memorial Project was founded on the 60th anniversary of the Partition in 2007. Over the last fifteen years, Chowdhry has created ten bodies of work that address and examine the many facets of the Partition of India from a counter-memory perspective. To commemorate the 51st anniversary of the Bangladesh Liberation War, several of these works are featured in a solo retrospective at the South Asia Institute in Chicago from August 6 to December 10, 2022.
When a memory is unbearable, how does one memorialize it? And when a history is unspeakable, how does one talk about it? The exhibition’s title, “Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories” alludes to the painful and silenced narratives that have been elided from mainstream discourses of the Partition.
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Roy, Rituparna. “Partition: The Holocaust.” South Asian Partition Fiction in English: From Khushwant Singh to Amitav Ghosh, Amsterdam University Press, 2010, pp. 33–62, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46mz7z.5. Accessed 8 May 2022.
Dalrymple, William. “The Mutual Genocide of Indian Partition.” The New Yorker, 22 June 2015. www.newyorker.com, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/06/29/the-great-divide-books-dalrymple.
Mookherjee, Nayanika. "The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories, and the Bangladesh War of 1971." Duke University Press, 2015.