SILENT WATERS: PARTITION OF 1947
This installation is an anti-memorial for the Partition of India in 1947. This was a very traumatic event that displaced close to 20 million people. The ethnic violence that ensued in the wake of the partition, resulted in close to 2 million deaths.*
What is lesser known is that at least 300,000 women were abducted and raped. The memory culture of the Partition focuses on the deaths and displacements but the women are barely ever mentioned. Another aspect of Partition violence that is rarely mentioned is the male body as a site of sexual or sexualized violence.
This is the counter-memory of the Partition that is elided from the popular memory culture of the Partition. There is a sense of subterranean shame, a sense of unease, that prevents the acknowledgment of the sexual violence that happened during the Partition riots.
Hushed stories of defiled women jumping into the village well to commit suicide and save the family honor has become a cultural trope in the collective memory of the Partition. A poignant movie, "Khamosh Paani (Silent Waters)," deploys this trope in a nuanced and sensitive manner. The title of this installation is an intertextual reference to this beautiful movie.
Artistic representations of sexual violence are difficult and problematic, to say the least. Therefore, I feel that any kind of commemorative gesture for such an abject issue would need to be multiplicitous, fragmented, temporary and peripatetic, in other words, an anti-memorial.
This site-specific installation is comprised of 101 larger-than-life-scale ceramic feet. The feet are glazed jet black inside and out. The feet are filled with saltwater, and as the water evaporates it creates a residue of crystallized salt inside the feet.
Water has a ritualistic and ceremonial role in the funerary rites of Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh communities. The empty ceramic feet filled with saltwater are mini wells that serve as a surrogate for the absent, defiled bodies. Feet are a particularly androgynous fragment of the human body and here they acknowledge both the male and female body also as a site of violence.
Why 101 feet? In India, it is considered auspicious to make offerings of money in the amounts of 11, 21, 51, 101, 501 and so on in temples. Therefore, 101 feet is a symbolic number to make a memorial offering to the men and women who were brutalized in the Partition riots.
A minimalist soundscape accompanies this installation and comprises of the sounds of rain, running feet, and a body falling into water, presumably a well. This soundscape plays in a loop in the space of the installation.
Silent Waters is the second in a series of art installations that are anti-memorials to the Partition. the other two are What the Body Remembers and
* More historical information about the Partition of India can be found at https://www.1947partitionarchive.org/