Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories (Part 2)
Partition Anti-Memorial Project
Art Exhibition commemorates the 76th anniversary of the 1947 Partition of India
August 11, 2023 - September 23, 2023
The Art Center of Highland Park, Chicago, Illinois
September 24 - December 10, 2023
Online Partition Museum, a virtual museum
“Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories (part 2)” continues to address the Partition of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Kashmir through experiential 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.
August 15, 2023 marks the 76th anniversary of India’s and Pakistan’s independence from the British on August 14-15, 1947. The 75th year of independence was marked by several celebrations in the subcontinent and its diasporas, and now the commemorative year is drawing to a close as the 76th anniversary approaches. Pritika Chowdhry’s exhibition “Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories,” parts 1 and 2 bracket this commemorative year. Her Partition Anti-Memorial Project was featured in a solo retrospective at the South Asia Institute in Chicago, and are currently on display at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, the Partition Online museum, and some of her newer works in this series will be featured in a solo exhibition at The Art Center of Highland Park.
India's independence in 1947 is forever linked with its ghostly twin, the Partition, which is often called the Holocaust of South Asia. It continues to spark more conflict and more divisions in the sub-continent. Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has called Partition “the central historical event in twentieth century South Asia.” In her words, “A defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.” The Partition of India in 1947 created Pakistan. Its domino effect was the partition of Pakistan in 1971, which created Bangladesh, and the fracturing of Kashmir into three different parts in 1947, 1962, and 1963, as Pakistan and China occupied parts of it.
Chowdhry’s experiential art installations are temporary anti-memorials to these three momentous partitions of the Indian subcontinent that continue to profoundly impact and shape South Asian geopolitics to this day. Chowdhry has completed two important works this year which will be exhibited for the first time in The Art Center of Highland Park.
“Broken Column: Monuments of Forgetting” project comprises latex casts of important monuments and memorials in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Chowdhry traveled to India in early 2023 and completed the India edition of the Broken Column anti-memorial. This had been delayed for several years due to Chowdhry getting married, having a daughter, and then COVID. She is delighted to be able to finally present this final chapter of the Broken Column project.
“Cracking India: The Line that Still Bleeds” project comprises pink neon sculptures that specifically highlight the Radcliffe Line which is the name given to the borders created by the British between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Chowdhry has expanded this project to also include the various partitions of Kashmir by depicting the Line of Control, the Line of Actual Control, and the Karakoram border. This new neon sculpture is an important addition to the partition discourse and stands in solidarity with the Kashmiri people to protest the occupation of their land.
In 2007, Pritika Chowdhry created her first anti-memorial to the partitions of India, Pakistan and Kashmir, titled “Queering Mother India.” Over the next sixteen years, Chowdhry has created ten bodies of work that address and examine the many facets of these partitions from a counter-memory perspective. She calls these works the Partition Anti-Memorial Project.
“Moving to the US in 1999, I was struck by the widespread lack of awareness of the Partition’s impact for people that lack a personal connection to the event. I realized the urgent need of addressing Partition within my work. With the memories of my grandparents’ firsthand experiences of the Partition in 1947 and 1971, I began creating artworks in 2007 to bear witness to the trauma of the Partition and its enduring effects through the lens of diasporic post-memory,” the artist comments.
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 partitions of India, Pakistan, and Kashmir.