• Pritika Chowdhry

Connecting Revolutions on the Anniversaries of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and Ireland’s Partition

Updated: Jul 1

I highlight the alliance between Ireland and India through a text I discovered while researching the installation "An Archive of 1919."

Close-up of the spittoon engraved with "Jallianwallan Bagh" and a map of Amritsar showing where the event took place, on the brick well.

Jallianwala Bagh Memorial

In 2008, I visited the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre memorial in Amritsar, India. Walking through the narrow entrance, I thought about the British-led massacre's consequences on the global community. Instead of only instilling fear in Indians, or as they were thought of by the British, subjects, it provoked Indian and Irish freedom fighters to push for full independence. It rallied India and Ireland against their common enemy and colonizer— the British Empire. American architect Benjamin Polk, who built the monument in 1951, kept the original claustrophobic entrance to the grounds so that visitors could experience the impossibility of escape from the scene of the massacre. Viewers are also surprised by the open expanse of space at the end of the narrow entrance where they can convene and build community.

Jallianwala bagh Massacre

On April 13, 1919, in a small town called Amritsar in Punjab, India, General Reginald Dyer led ninety British army soldiers to a public park called the Jallianwala Bagh and ordered them to open fire on a peaceful gathering of men, women, and children. The troops blocked the park's only passageway and fired until they ran out of ammunition.

Indo-Irish Independence League

It is widely reported that the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre catalyzed India’s freedom movement. However, less publicized are the warm relations and mutual support between Indian and Irish revolutionaries that were solidified after the bloody event.

One year later, in 1920, Eamon de Valera, the president of the Sinn Fein party of Ireland, published “India & Ireland,” a pamphlet where he condemned the British for their violence in Amritsar. In it, de Valera compares India and Ireland to George Washington's plight to free the United States. He also presented the text as a speech during the Friends of freedom dinner in New York for India. In the pamphlet, he details the two countries’ mutual goal to become free from the British.

1919 - The Year of the Crack-Up

One of the most important parts of decolonization, or counteracting eurocentric ideals, is connecting revolutionary events globally. Taking as its starting point the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre my installation "An Archive of 1919" functions as a visual and experiential archive of the year 1919 - weaving together global events of resilience. The project covers—the May Fourth Revolution in Tiananmen Square, China; the Turkish War of Independence in Istanbul, Turkey; the Russian Civil War in Kyiv; 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"—I ask viewers to hold together various historical moments and conflicts to look for connections across space and time.

Installation view of ‘An Archive of 1919: The Year of the Crack-Up,” at the Whittier Storefront gallery, in Minneapolis, MN.

Spittoons as containers of memory

The work consists of fourteen brass spittoons etched with the name of a historical event and a map that locates the city and building where the event occurred. Inspired by Salman Rushdie's "Midnight's Children," in which a silver spittoon, became a character symbolizing the nation's lost memory, I decided to use brass spittoons from the 1920s in this installation. You can read more about it here.

Transnational Connections

As I conducted research for “Archive of 1919” I scoured archives of letters and newspapers to find connections between the events of 1919. As April and May mark the important intertwining anniversaries of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and, two years later in May 1921, Ireland’s Partition it seems important to revisit “India & Ireland” which was one of the most prominent historical texts that connect the two countries.

The Martyrs' Well

Although maps unite the installation “Archive of 1919.” “The Martyrs’ Well” is its center point. It is a well-like structure in the center of the gallery space using old, locally sourced bricks that reference the Martyrs' Well. After the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, hundreds of bodies were found in the Martyrs' well; presumably, they had jumped into it to protect themselves from Dyer's bullets. Although they are oceans apart, this violence in Amritsar moved de Valera to the point that he called out to the world to view Ireland and India’s causes as unified.

Counteracting British supremacism, de Valera proclaimed Irish and Indian peoples as equals as he addressed a global community of supporters in New York in 1920. To honor the anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and Irish Independence and by weaving together these interrelated events we can both understand the magnitude of human lives lost due to colonialism. But also, importantly and less historicized, diverse colonized peoples formed alliances in order to better fight for freedom.