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Sep 3 and 17 | Oct 01, 15 and 29 | Nov 12 | Dec 10
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India's independence in 1947 is forever linked with its ghostly twin, the Partition. Pritika Chowdhry’s exhibition “Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories” investigates the Partition of India in 1947, which created Pakistan, and eventually, Bangladesh in 1971. Chowdhry’s experiential art installations are temporary anti-memorials to the Partition.
The Partition triggered the largest and most rapid migration in human history. Over 20 million people were displaced in an unprecedented mass migration in history. Approximately 2 million people died in the communal violence across the new border, called the Radcliffe Line. What is lesser known is that over 300,000 women are estimated to have been raped and sexually violated during the Partition riots.
The Partition is often called the Holocaust of South Asia, and it is central to modern identity and geopolitics in the Indian subcontinent. Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has called Partition “the central historical event in twentieth century South Asia.” In her words, “A defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.”
“Moving to the US in 1999, I was struck by the widespread lack of awareness of Partition’s impact for people that lack a personal connection to the event. I realized the urgent need of addressing Partition within my work. With the guidance of my grandparents’ firsthand experiences of the Partition in 1947 and 1971, I began creating artworks in 2007 to bear witness to the trauma of the Partition and its enduring effects through the lens of diasporic post-memory,” the artist comments.
The Partition Anti-Memorial Project was founded on the 60th anniversary of the Partition in 2007. Over the last fifteen years, Chowdhry has created ten bodies of work that address and examine the many facets of the Partition of India from a counter-memory perspective. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Partition, several of these works will be featured in a solo retrospective at the South Asia Institute in Chicago from August to December 2022.
When a memory is unbearable, how does one memorialize it? And when a history is unspeakable, how does one talk about it? The exhibition’s title, “Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories” alludes to the painful and silenced narratives that have been elided from mainstream discourses of the Partition.
ABOUT PRITIKA CHOWDHRY
As a sociopolitical, feminist artist, I make large-scale sculptures and site-sensitive installations that reference the body to memorialize unbearable memories. Having witnessed the intergenerational effects of geopolitical trauma, I have dedicated my work to cataloging the violence of colonialism/imperialism alongside global acts of resistance.
Since 2007, I have built my oeuvre through the Partition Anti-Memorial Project, a research-based project that excavates subjugated knowledge about the 1947 Partition of India and the 1972 Bangladesh Independence War to build several anti-memorials. While my grandparents survived the Partition of India, they lost several members of their extended family in the brutal communal riots of that time.
My work aims to highlight historically marginalized female voices in the representation of Partition while contextualizing the event’s global repercussions. Transnational in scope, my sculptural art installations and anti-memorials bear witness to partitions of countries, civil and military wars, riots, border violence, genocides, and terrorist attacks, holding space for mourning, remembrance, and repair. As an interdisciplinary artist, I migrate between fibers, latex, paper, clay, glass, metal, wood, poetry, drawing, and literary references. I am drawn to the cultural significance and symbolic possibility opened up in using different materials.
My anti-memorials are quietly provocative, temporary, and incorporate visceral materials and soundscapes. Although women's abduction during the partition of India in 1947 is one of the nation’s most painful memories, their experiences are often excluded from discussions of Partition’s impact. By locating nationhood within women that have been subject to brutal violence, my installations cut against nationalist and masculinist narratives of trauma and memory. My goal is not to “speak for the women,” rather my experiential art installations invite viewers to bear witness, holding space for mourning, remembrance, and repair.
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