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Remembering the Crooked Line: The Skin of the Nation

Partitions: A Transnational History

The 20th century saw several partitions around the world along ethno-religious lines. Some of them were colonial partitions and some were cold-war era partitions. The former followed a pattern of decolonization that was offered as a solution to diminish ethnic conflict, and the latter came about as a result of the two World Wars as the world started aligning with America and it's allies or Russia and it's allies. 

Remembering the Crooked Line

Chess, Kites and Ringa-Ringa-Roses, Installation view of Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial to Partitions of the 20th century.

Chess and Ringa-Ringa-Roses, Installation view of Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial to Partitions of the 20th century.

Remembering the Crooked Line is an anti-memorial to the partitions of the 20th century. It is an art project grounded in intensive investigation of borders and cartography as technologies of colonization, nation-building, and ethnic divisions. This multi-part installation functions as an archive that makes transnational connections between nations that have been partitioned in the 20th century.

Colonial Era Partitions

India, Palestine, Ireland, and Cyprus - former British colonies, were divided along ethnic lines at the end of British rule in each country. The creation of Bangladesh in 1971 was arguably a long-term effect of the hurriedly done partition of India in 1947, and it was a partition of Pakistan, but curiously it is not called a partition..

Cold War Era Partitions

The Cold War-era partitions of Germany, Korea, and Vietnam were partly implemented by the United States. The partition of Bosnia between Serbia and Croatia, and the proposed partition of Iraq into Shiastan, Sunnistan, and Kurdistan, are examples of the continuing use of partition along ethnic lines as a motif of neo-colonial domination.

Installation view of Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial to Partitions of the 20th century, showing a game of Parchisi and chess, maps of the new borders printed, drawn and sewn on the fabric panels.

Chess, Parchisi, and Kites. Installation view of Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial to Partitions of the 20th century.

Juxtaposing Partitions: Excavating Counter-Memories

Examining these partitions in a comparative framework, by juxtaposing them side-by-side, enables us to excavate the counter-memories embedded in these partitions, and create a rich transnational archive.

Counter-Memory by Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault coined the term, “Counter-Memory” to describe a modality of history that opposes history as knowledge or history as truth. For Foucault, counter-memory was an act of resistance in which one critically examines history and excavates the narratives that have been subjugated (Foucault 1977).

Terhi Lakeer (The Crooked Line) by Ismat Chugtai

The title of this project is inspired by a novel titled “Terhi Lakeer" (The Crooked Line)” written by Ismat Chughtai, a Muslim feminist writer from India. This epic novel, which was penned in the late 1940s in the immediate aftermath of the Partition of India in 1947, traces the tumultuous life of a Muslim Indian woman from childhood through adolescence to adulthood.

The politically charged backdrop of the novel is a complex tapestry woven from the partition of Ireland, the two world wars, and eventually, the partition of India. The protagonist gets married to an Irishman who is in India as a news reporter. The novel makes allegorical connections between the common histories of British colonization that Ireland and India share. As a post-colonial text, it is significant in bridging the histories of two former colonies of Britain.

Ringa-Ringa-Roses and Kites. Closer view of Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial to Partitions of the 20th century.

Ringa-Ringa-Roses and Kites. Closer view of Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial to Partitions of the 20th century.

I often mine literary sources to articulate and cite specific theses in my work. Intertextuality is a literary device that creates an 'interrelationship between texts' and generates related understanding in separate works. In this case, I am creating an interrelationship between a visual work and a work of historical fiction. (Intertextuality n.d.)

Chugtai’s brilliant idea of juxtaposing the colonial histories of India and Ireland, and the blood-soaked partitions that both nations endured, inspired me to research the other partitions of the 20th century. With this brilliant move, Chugtai sets the stage for a non-hegemonic narrative of the partitions. This is the very essence of counter-memories, to destabilize hegemonic historical narratives and create space for memories that have been suppressed.

Following in Chugtai’s footsteps, I set out to juxtapose the eight partitions that have occurred in the 20th century. The cross-cultural motifs of songs and games, get harnessed as mnemonic devices to excavate the counter-memories of these partitions. Especially to uncover the memories of women who silently endure the brutalities of partitions.

Partition In Ireland, India, and Palestine: Theory And Practice

Three cholis hanging together, each represents the partition of India, Ireland, and Israel. Partitions of the 20th century.

Three cholis hanging together, map lines burned into the fabric, each represents the partition of India, Ireland, and Israel.

In researching this strategy of juxtaposing partitions that have happened in different parts of the world, I stumbled upon this book, “Partition In Ireland, India, and Palestine: Theory And Practice,” by T. G. Fraser. It is a brilliant book offering a comparative analysis of three of the eight partitions I tackle in this art project.

 

He writes, “This study makes no claim to be a substitute history of these three countries; rather, it seeks to use them to examine the common factor of partition. The principal justification for this kind of comparative study is the opportunity it offers to subject a specific historical problem to the kind of analysis which can show which common elements were important or where circumstances unique to a particular society were operating.” (Fraser 1984)

Partitions: A Transnational History of Twentieth-Century Territorial Separatism

A much more recent book (2019) edited by Arie M. Dubnov and Laura Robson Partition also offers an in-depth study of the three partitions of Ireland, India, and Israel, along ethno-religious lines into separate nation-states. They debunk the idea of partition as a successful political "solution" to ethnic conflict. Since these three partitions are colonial era partitions, the contributors draw out concrete connections among the cases of Ireland, India, and Israel.

The Anti-Memorial

When a memory is unbearable, how do you memorialize it? Traditional rituals and forms of memorialization would not have worked to memorialize these grim events. What is needed is an anti-memorial that will not let people forget the violence and futility of partitioning countries (Young Fall 1997).

This anti-memorial is a sculptural installation comprised of six parts - 

  1. Girls playing Ringa Ringa Roses.

  2. Women playing Ringa Ringa Roses.

  3. Kite flying.

  4. Game of Parchisi/ Parcheesi.

  5. Game of Chess.

  6. Soundscape.

In this project, the games are cross-cultural motifs that highlight commonalities between the partitioned nations and allow the viewer to engage with large transnational histories from a personal and individual location.

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Material Referentiality

The materials used in this installation are very consciously chosen to create a skin like effect. Raw silk, khaddar cotton dyed with tea, dupioni silk, handmade paper, hair, thread, turmeric, surgical sutures, and pig guts. Wax has been used to stiffen the fabrics and create hollow sculptural forms. My goal is to engage the viewers in a visceral way.

"The artwork’s physicality, those aspects that can be sensed and verified by viewers, is a first consideration; physicality impacts content and, subsequently, meaning," writes Christina Murdoch Mills, (Materiality 2009).  "Another aspect of materiality as a theory is that art locates viewers within their corporeal selves by engaging the senses; such experiences are, naturally, unique and individual to each viewer, (Materiality 2009)," Mills posits further.

Girls playing Ringa Ringa Roses

In this part of the anti-memorial, ethnic shirts called kurtis, made out of raw silk, have been embroidered with map lines, and hair has been felted onto the surface to draw the newly created border line. The maps and borders are of the partitioned countries.

 

The raw silk kurtis have been stiffened using beeswax, and hung from the ceiling using embroidery thread.

Hollow and spot lighted, the eerie shadows of the forms create a ghostly feeling. This is a memory of children playing a popular game. 

Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry

Children's kurtis with maps embroidered with thread and hair, stiffened with wax, spotlit and hung with thread.

 
 
Adult cholis with maps burned on the fabric, stiffened with wax, spotlit and hung with thread, Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry.

Adult cholis with maps burned on the fabric, stiffened with wax, spotlit and hung with thread.

Women playing Ringa Ringa Roses

In this part of the anti-memorial, ethnic half-shirts called cholis, made out of raw cotton called khaddar, dyed with tea. Map lines have been burnt on cholis, and the partition has been depicted with a violent rip. 

 

The rip has been repaired with wire twisted to look like barbed wire. This represents a hostile border where sharp barbed wire is used to keep people from coming in or leaving.

 

The raw cotton cholis have also been stiffened using beeswax, and hung from the ceiling using embroidery thread.

Hollow and spot lighted, the eerie shadows of the choli forms also create a ghostly feeling. This also  depicts a memory of a childhood game. 

 

Kite-flying

Installation view of kites, kurtis and cholis, in Remembering the Crooked Line work.

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In this part of the anti-memorial, kites made of hand-made abaca paper, are suspended from the ceiling using embroidery thread. Maps have been drawn, burnt, sewn and embroidered on the kites of the eight countries that were partitioned in the 20th century.

 

The border has been rendered in a visually prominent manner on the kites with burns, rips and cuts to create ruptures. In places, the ruptures have been sewn together with surgical sutures, as a gesture of repair. Some kites have been covered with pig guts to enhance the skin like feel of the kites.

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Close-up of kite, with surgical suture.

Maps and borders have been drawn on the kites made of hand-made abaca paper with walnut ink.

Some of the kites have been dyed red, some yellow using turmeric. 

Some of the kites have been stiffened with beeswax. The wax also makes the material more translucent which adds to the ghostly feel of the skin.

Translucent and backlit, the translucent kites, hung just above eye-level, add to the ghostly feeling. This also  depicts a memory of a childhood game. 

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Close-up of kite, with pig guts and sewing.

Game of Parchisi/ Parcheesi

Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry

Closer view of the Parchisi/ Parcheesi with maps on the central home square and the home paths.

The larger than life scale Parchisi/ Parcheesi has been constructed in sections. Each section contains map fragment of one of the partitioned countries.

 

The central home square and the four home paths have maps printed on panels of dupioni silk. Then each home path has been painted with walnut ink to create the inner path and other safe squares. The partition border line has been embroidered to emphasize the border on the printed map in relief.

 

Hung above the Parchisi/ Parcheesi board are several panels that are similarly prepared. They contain maps of the other partitioned countries. Dice and Parchisi/ Parcheesi pieces are provided for people to actually sit and play a round or a full game of Parchisi/ Parcheesi.

The panels are placed on square and rectangular wooden stools joined together in a + sign to create the Parchisi/ Parcheesi board. The four corners have cushions for players to sit and play. The panels are interchangeable, so the audience can choose which panel they would like to have on the Parchisi/ Parcheesi board to play.

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Game of Chess

The larger than life scale Chess contains a map showing the proposed partition of Iraq, printed on dupioni silk. The squares of the chess board are painted on the printed fabric using ink. The fabric has been stiffened and attached to the wooden chess board.

Hung above the chess board are two more panels that are similarly prepared. One panel contains a map of the Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir. And the other panel contains a map of of the Palestinian and Israeli sides of West Bank.

The three panels of Kashmir, Palestine, and Iraq are interchangeable, so the audience can choose which panel they would like to have on the chess board to play their game of chess.

 

The chess board is laid out ready to play. Two full sets of chess pieces and floor cushions invite viewers to sit down and play a game of chess.

Installation View of Remembering the Crooked Line, showing the game of chess. 

Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry
 
 

The Soundscape

The fifth part of this installation is a multi-layered soundscape that further mines the charged tensions between the intimate and the national. The primary layer of the soundscape is comprised of a mother and her two daughters alternately singing the Ring-a-ring-a-roses rhyme. There is a stark contrast between the joyful innocence of the young girls’ singing and the somber gravity of the grown woman’s voice.

In the distant background, historic independence speeches by the first heads of the states of India, Pakistan, Israel, and the Irish Republic can be heard. The speeches have been laid as background on the primary track, along with national anthems of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Israel, and Ireland.

Skin of the Nation

I think of maps as the skin of the nation. By extracting real and fictionalized cartographic fragments of the borderlines of each of these countries, and grafting them onto garments, board games, and kites, I attempt to give material form to the skin of the nation. While the physical human body is made elusive in this project, it is alluded to by several corporeal references.

In each of these objects, the maps have been manifested on materials that have been manipulated to feel like skin by mimicking the texture, translucency, and look of actual skin.

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Ringa-Ringa-Roses and Kites. Installation view of Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial to Partitions of the 20th century.

Partition of Ireland, 3 May, 1921

The Partition of Ireland was done by the British and resulted in the division of Ireland into two self-governing polities: Northern Ireland and Southern Ireland. It was enacted on 3 May 1921 under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920.

 

The smaller Northern Ireland was created with a devolved government and remained part of the UK. The larger Southern Ireland was not recognized by most of its citizens, who instead recognized the self-declared Irish Republic.

 

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the territory of Southern Ireland left the UK and became the Irish Free State, now the Republic of Ireland. (Partition of Ireland 1921)

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Parchisi Panel showing a section of the Partition borderline of Germany, between East and West Germany. 

Partition of Germany, August 1, 1945

Following World War II, Germany was divided into East and West Germany. The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), was established on 23 May 1949, commonly known as West Germany, and it was a parliamentary democracy with a social democratic economic system and free churches and labor unions.

 

German Democratic Republic (GDR), established on 7 October 1949, commonly known as East Germany, was the smaller Marxist–Leninist socialist republic with a totalitarian leadership dominated by the Soviet-aligned Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) in order to retain it within the Soviet sphere of influence.(History of Germany 1945)

Partition of India, 15 August, 1947

The Partition of India was the division of British India in 1947, into two independent dominions - the Dominion of India is today the Republic of India, and the Dominion of Pakistan is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the People's Republic of Bangladesh.

 

The partition was outlined in the Indian Independence Act of 1947 and resulted in the dissolution of the British Crown rule in India. The two self-governing independent Dominions of India and Pakistan legally came into existence at midnight on the 14th and 15th of August 1947, (Partition of India 1947).

Ringa-Ringa-Roses. Close-up of girls' kurtis in Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial to Partitions of the 20th century.

Kurti showing a borderline made of hair dividing the new countries.

Parchisi Panel showing a section of the border between Israel and Palestine on the West Bank. Closer view of Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial to Partitions of the 20th century.

Partition of Palestine, 29 November, 1947

The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine was a proposal by the United Nations, which recommended a partition of Mandatory Palestine at the end of the British Mandate.

 

On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly adopted the Plan as Resolution 181. The resolution recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem.

 

This proposal was rejected by the Palestinians and led to a civil war at the end of the British colonial rule (Partition of Palestine 1947).

Parchisi Panel showing a section of the border between Israel and Palestine on the West Bank. 

Partition of Korea, 15 August, 1948; 9 September 1948

The division of Korea began with the defeat of Japan in World War II. In the last days of the war, the U.S. proposed dividing the Korean peninsula into two occupation zones (a U.S. and Soviet one) with the 38th parallel as the dividing line. The Soviets accepted their proposal and agreed to divide Korea.

 

This led to the establishment of the Republic of Korea in South Korea on 15 August 1948, followed by the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in North Korea on 9 September 1948. The United States supported the South, the Soviet Union supported the North, and each government claimed sovereignty over the whole Korean peninsula. (Division of Korea 1948)

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Partition borderline and map lines burnt on Choli made of khaddar cotton dyed with tea, dividing North and South Vietnam.

Partition of Vietnam, July 21, 1954

As decolonization took place in Asia, France had to relinquish its power over Indochina (Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam). While Laos and Cambodia were both given independence, France chose to stay in Vietnam. This ended with a war between French troops and the Vietnamese nationalists in 1954, where the French were defeated.

 

In the Geneva Conference of 1954, it was decided that Vietnam would be divided at the 17th parallel until 1956 when democratic elections would be held under international supervision. However, the elections were not held, which led to the Vietnam War, and the country remained divided till 1976. (Geneva Conference 1954)

Bangladesh Liberation War (Partition of Pakistan),
Mar 26, 1971 – Dec 16, 1971

The Bangladesh Independence Movement from what was then East Pakistan, in 1971, was sparked by the rise of the Bengali nationalist and self-determination movement, caused by increasing alienation from West Pakistan.

 

The war began when Bangladesh declared its independence from East Pakistan on the night of 25 March 1971. Over the next few months, it escalated into a full-scale war and resulted in the 1971 Bangladesh genocide, (Bangladesh Liberation War 1971).

 

The war ended on 16 December 1971, which resulted in the independence of Bangladesh, (Independence Day of Bangladesh 1971).

Parchisi Panel made of Dupioni silk, with map digitally printed and then hand painted, and hand-embroidered a section of the border between India and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). 

Parchisi Panel made of Dupioni silk, with map digitally printed and then hand painted, and hand-embroidered a section of the border between India and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). 

Parchisi Panel showing a section of the Partition borderline of Cyprus, between Turkish occupied and Republic of Cyprus in the South. Close-up view of Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry, anti-memorial to Partitions of the 20th century.

Parchisi Panel showing a section of the Partition borderline of Cyprus, between Turkish occupied and Republic of Cyprus in the South. 

Partition of Cyprus, July 20 – August 16, 1974

In 1974, Turkish military invaded and occupied the northern third of Cyprus. Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, while there is broad recognition that the ongoing military presence constitutes occupation of territories that belong to the Republic of Cyprus.

 

Although the Republic of Cyprus is recognized by the international community as the sole legitimate state, the north is under the de facto administration of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, on which the Turkish Armed Forces are stationed. (Cyprus Dispute 1974)

Partition of Bosnia, 1 July 1991 

The partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina was discussed and attempted in 1991, which led to the Bosnian War, from 6 April 1992 to 14 December 1995.

 

The war resulted in a military stalemate, and an internal partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina according to the Dayton Accords. As of 2021, the country remains one state while internal political divisions of Bosnia and Herzegovina based on the 1995 Dayton Agreement remain in place. (Partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina 1991)

Partition borderline ripped into the Choli which has been repaired with barbed wire, and map lines burnt on the Choli made of khaddar cotton dyed with tea, showing the violent partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Partition borderline ripped into the Choli which has been repaired with barbed wire, and map lines burnt on the Choli made of khaddar cotton dyed with tea, showing the violent partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The proposed partition of Iraq printed digitally on silk, hand-painted to create a chess-board, to signify that such ethnographic-religious divisions are a game of strategy for colonial and imperial powers.

Proposed Partition of Iraq

The Partition of Iraq refers to a number of proposed geopolitical partitions of varying severity of the nation of Iraq, since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

 

Such a partition has been proposed in a "soft form" (in which Iraq becomes a federal state) and a "hard form" (in which Iraq becomes three separate countries, Sunnistan for Sunni Arabs in western Iraq, Kurdistan for Kurds in northern Iraq, and Shiastan for Shi'a Arabs in southern Iraq). However, Iraq remains a unified state and was not partitioned. (Partition of Iraq n.d.)

The proposed partition of Iraq printed digitally on silk, hand-painted to create a chess-board, to signify that such ethnographic-religious divisions are a game of strategy for colonial and imperial powers.

Partition Memorial Project

Remembering the Crooked Line project is the third in a series of installations that memorialize partitions (Partition Memorial Project 2007). My starting point for this series was intensive research in the history of the partition of India in 1947, and the ethnic violence that erupted in the South Asian subcontinent as a result of this watershed event.

In the making of these works and doing further research, I realized that there are multiple histories of partitions. In fact, I found that partitioning communities and nations along ethnic lines is a recurring motif in geopolitical conflicts of the 20th century. Remembering the Crooked Line project seeks to make transnational connections between seemingly disparate geopolitical histories.

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Remembering the Crooked Line, by Pritika Chowdhry

Chess board panel showing Indian and Pakistani sides of Kashmir.

Chess board panel showing contested territories between Palestine and Israel. 

Bibliography

1971. Bangladesh Liberation War. March 26. Accessed November 3, 2021.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bangladesh_Liberation_War.

1974. Cyprus Dispute. July 20. Accessed November 3, 2021.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyprus_dispute.

1948. Division of Korea. August 15. Accessed November 3, 2021.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Division_of_Korea.

Foucault, Michel. 1977. "Nietzche, Genealogy, History." In Language, Counter-Memory,

Practice, by Donald F. Bouchard, 160. Cornell University Press.

Fraser, T. G. 1984. Partition in Ireland, India, and Palestine:

Theory and Pracce. Palgrave McMillan.

1954. Geneva Conference. July 21. Accessed November 3, 2021.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1954_Geneva_Conference.

1945. History of Germany. August 1. Accessed November 3, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Germany_(1945%E2%80%931990).

1971. Independence Day of Bangladesh. March 26. Accessed November 3, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independence_Day_(Bangladesh).

n.d. Intertextuality. Accessed November 11, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intertextuality.

2007. Partition Memorial Project. Accessed November 3, 2021.

https://www.partitionmemorialproject.org.

1991. Partition of Bosnia and Herzegovina. July 1. Accessed November 3, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_Bosnia_and_Herzegovina.

1947. Partition of India. August 15. Accessed November 3, 2021.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_India.

n.d. Partition of Iraq. Accessed November 3, 2021.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_Iraq.

1921. Partition of Ireland. May 3. Accessed November 3, 2021.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Partition_of_Ireland.

1947. Partition of Palestine. November 29. Accessed November 3, 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Nations_Partition_Plan_for_Palestine.

Young, James E. Fall 1997. "Germany’s Memorial Question: Memory, Counter-Memory,

and the End of the Monument." The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol 96, no 4 855.

Mills, Christina Murdoch, 2009. "Materiality as the Basis for the Aesthetic Experience in Contemporary Art." Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 1289. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/etd/1289