Partition Anti-Memorial Project

In 2007, on the 60th anniversary of India’s Partition, post-colonial feminist artist Pritika Chowdhry created her first work in response to the Partition, titled Queering Mother India. As Chowdhry researched feminist historiographies and recounts from her own family she soon found that the glorified storytelling surrounding the Partition of India failed to include experiences of women, marginalized groups, and transnational connections. As her research progressed, a complex web of interconnected geopolitical events emerged. Continuing to build on the series by excavating counter-memories, each large-scale installation or anti-memorial functions as an entry point to healing processes and bearing witness.

 

The Partition Anti-Memorial Project has been exhibited widely in museums and galleries across the United States and Pakistan. The Partition Anti-Memorial Project tells the story of the Partition through art. It comprises art installations that memorialize the Partition of India in 1947 and the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. The experiential art installations are anti-memorials that engage with the geopolitics of South Asia which was deeply affected by the Indian Partition, from a counter-memory perspective. 

Partition and Radcliffe Line

Cracking India: The Line That Still Bleeds

This anti-memorial memorializes the Radcliffe Line which divided British India into India, East Pakistan and West Pakistan in 1947. In 1971, East Pakistan became Bangladesh. These two violent and bloody partitions embody not only the violent history of the sub-continent but also haunt the current geopolitical landscape of South Asia.

PritikaChowdhry_CrackingIndia2.jpg
Partition Art | Installation view of Broken Column art exhibition, by the artist, Pritika Chowdhry

Broken Column: The Monuments of Forgetting

This anti-memorial triangulates public monuments in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, through artistic interventions, and juxtaposes the counter-memories of the Partition of India in 1947, and the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, as a "memory triad."

Partition and Migration

Silent Waters: The Uncounted

The forced depopulations of millions and the largest migration caused by the Partition are examined in the Silent Waters art exhibition. The Partition of India displaced 20 million people in 1947, and 30 million people in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. This anti-memorial seeks to memorialize these millions of people displaced during this period.

 Partition Art | Installation view of Silent Waters, by the artist, Pritika Chowdhry

Partition and Maps/Cartography

 Partition Art | Installation view of Remembering the Crooked Line, by the artist, Pritika Chowdhry

Remembering the Crooked Line:
The Skin of the Nation

Maps are examined as technologies of Partition in Remembering the Crooked Line art exhibition. This anti-memorial reframes maps and cartography, as corporeal forms. It examines the partitions of countries worldwide from the twentieth century - India, Ireland, Palestine, Cyprus, Vietnam, Korea, Germany, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Partition and Rape as a Weapon

What the Body Remembers: The Invisible Women

Nationalism through the female body is explored in the What the Body Remembers art exhibition. This anti-memorial investigates rape as a weapon of war, and commemorates the over 300,000 women who were abducted and raped in the Partition of Indian in 1947, and the 200,000 - 400,000 women that were raped in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. 

 Partition Art | What the Body Remembers, by Pritika Chowdhry
 Partition Art | Installation view of This Handful of Dust: Sticks and Stones, by Pritika Chowdhry

Partition and Mass Graves

This Handful of Dust: Bones, Guns, and Stones

In the aftermath of the Bangladesh War of 1971, over 5000 mass graves have been discovered in Bangladesh. This anti-memorial seeks to excavate the traumatic history of the genocide and war crimes that have shaped the psyche of this new nation. 

Partition and Communal Riots

Memory Leaks: Traces and Drips

The repeating cycles of communal riots engineered by the Hindu Right are examined in the Memory Leaks art exhibition. This anti-memorial explores the periodic eruptions of communal riots that seem to happen with uncanny regularity in India since the Partition of 1947. The trace memories of the violence of the partition riots continue to drip into the present day through the recurring communal riots.

 Partition Art | Installation view of Memory Leaks, by Pritika Chowdhry
 Partition Art | Closer view of An Archive of 1919, by Pritika Chowdhry

Partition and Jallianwallan Bagh

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

The role of the Jallianwallan Bagh Massacre in the Independence movement and the Partition is examined in An Archive of 1919 art exhibition. This anti-memorial to the Jallianwallan Bagh massacre examines the various traumatic events that occurred in the year 1919, and suggests an international context that led to the partitions of India, Ireland, and Palestine. 

Partition and the English language

The Masters’ Tongues: Dialectics of Language

The English language as an instrument of colonialism and a thorny issue in post-colonial politics is explored in The Masters' Tongues art exhibition. This work investigates the colonial history of the English language. It was used as a tool of colonialism, to create a discourse of superior colonizers and inferior natives, who could not speak English.

 Partition Art | Closer view of The Masters Tongues, by Pritika Chowdhry
Partition Art | Installation view of Queering Mother India, by Pritika Chowdhry

Partition and Mother India

Queering Mother India:
History is a Woman's Body

The ever-green patriarchal construct that enables the systematic use of rape as a weapon is examined in Queering Mother India art exhibition. This artwork investigates the nationalist and patriarchal construct of "Mother India," which enables the perverse logic of symbolically wounding and humiliating a community by raping the women of that community.

The Story of the Partition of India through Visual Art

 

The Partition Anti-Memorial Project tells the story of the Partition of India and the Bangladesh Liberation War through experiential art installations. Often, I use the term "Partition Art" as a shorthand for the Partition Anti-Memorial Project and the art installations it is comprised. It is a series or collection of anti-memorials that excavate different counter-memories of the Partition of India, 1947, and the Bangladesh Liberation War, 1971, that created India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh Liberation War was a second partition of the sub-continent, albeit this time of Pakistan. While, it is usually not called a partition, in effect it certainly was, because Pakistan lost half its land-mass and half its population as a result.

 

In addition to these two partitions, I explore and memorialize other partitions of the world that have occurred in the twentieth century in the Partition Anti-Memorial Project, such as the Partition of Ireland, Partition of Palestine, Partition of Cyprus, Partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Partition of Germany, Partition of Vietnam, and Partition of Korea.

 

Family History of the two partitions

My mother's family is originally from Karachi which became part of Pakistan when the new border was created in the Partition of India, in 1947. My father's family is from Bengal which became East Pakistan in 1947, and then Bangladesh in 1971. Partition, migration, and communal violence are part of my family history. My identity as a grandchild of the Partition has certainly affected my art practice as an artist.

As the lives and identity of common people that experienced the pain of the two partitions across the borders are lost, it is imperative to engage and preserve the histories and memories of these watershed events. My hope is to create resources that log the history that was lost, and create a collection of images and works that develop the story of this painful inheritance.

These events express the search for catharsis and peaceful family life. Museums cannot collect stories of families, their search for a sense of roots in the world, for a life born in a direction of hope. Each art exhibition engages with a different facet of the Partition and the communities it affects through its stories. The subjects of these anti-memorials form the heritage of the Partition.

Partition Museum in Amritsar, New Delhi, and Kolkatta

Descendants of the families that experienced the Partition violence in 1947, created the Partition Museum in Amritsar in Punjab, in 2017. This museum houses photos, news clippings, and other memorabilia on display. We hear the news that this same group is now opening another museum in New Delhi.

The Partition Museum in Amritsar is the first physical memorial in India to the Partition. Another museum has been opened in Kolkatta by descendants of the families that experienced the Bengal Partition. The Kolkatta Partition Museum serves as a center for resources about the Partition of Bengal and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Online Partition Museum

The Partition Anti-Memorial Project is becoming part of the newly formed online Partition  Museum. Researchers will be able to utilize this web archive of the Partition Anti-Memorial Art Project and that of the online Partition Museum. These projects also exists in physical form whenever there's an opportunity to exhibit any of these art installations.

 

Partition of India today and tomorrow

The search for resolution of the Partition violence continues in South Asia. My hope is that the Partition Anti-Memorial Project will one day become the "Partition Reconciliation Project" and make meaningful gestures of repair to the painful human history of the Partition of India and the Bangladesh Liberation War.