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Partition and Rape as a Weapon

What the Body Remembers: The Invisible Women

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project statement

Through the racialized and sexualized female body I examine the resistant ways in which women respond to violence. My work is consciously located in a culturally specific context, and it is my hope that while it acknowledges my specific ethnic location yet my work transcends it by engaging universal issues of identity and location that are mapped and marked on our bodies. My earlier works comprised of larger-than-life whole figures that functioned at a micro level and invoked individual narratives of trauma through the whole body.

My current body of work investigates the potential of the twice-life-size fragmented body to function at a macro level to invoke collective narratives of trauma. In particular, I have focused my research on the Partition of colonial India in 1947 that dislocated 12 million Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, and resulted in the formation of India and Pakistan. In the partition, over 100,000 women were raped or abducted and disappeared from their communities. Realizing the close relationship of trauma work to memory work, I am striving to create a visual language that can speak about collective memories of trauma through archetypes and iconic bodies.

These new sculptures are comprised of lower-halves of the female body. The sculptures are caught in moments of play such as hopscotch or skipping rope. These childhood games engage the body in pleasure of a physical nature, and simultaneously function as a screen memory. There is an un-narratable element in memories of violence, and the viewer is asked to understand what is left unsaid through these sculptures placed in a playground environment.
The half-figures range in height from 5’ to 6’ and they are rendered in a deliberately anti-classical manner. The material presence of these sculptures is corporeal, and I hope they convey a visceral embodiment of vulnerability as well as strength. The naked half-bodies are of generous proportions, and their genitalia are clearly articulated. While erotic power is apparent in these new sculptures it is presented as a sublimated, underlying thread rather than a direct representation.

My research for this body of work has included mining the rich body of knowledge found in memory culture, as well as literary works of fiction and non-fiction that investigate the Partition. The title of this exhibit is inspired in part from a novel about the Partition written by Shauna Singh Baldwin titled “What the Body Remembers”. I also owe a huge debt to other literary works by Ismat Chugtai and Attia Hossain for their insightful examination of the Partition through a gendered lens, as well as to the feminist historiography on the Partition by Urvashi Butalia, Ritu Menon, and Kamla Bhasin.

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What the body Remembers: The Invisible Woman

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The South Asian sub-continent has experienced two very violent and bloody partitions – the Partition of India in 1947, and the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971. At least 300,000 women were abducted and raped during the 1947 communal violence, on both sides of the border. And at least 200,000 – 400,000 Bangladeshi women were raped in the War of 1971.

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