Visual arts

Artist Pritika Chowdhry’s ‘anti-memorials’ illustrate what is excluded from the collective memories of the score

The Jallianwala Bagh massacre is one of the most significant events in the history of the subcontinent. Many people, including women and children, lost their lives on April 13, 1919, the day of Baisakhi, when General Reginald Edward Dy ordered soldiers to open fire on the gathering – camping on the open ground from Jallianwala Bagh – without any warning. “Yet there are not many recordings of the event from the women’s perspective,” said Pritika Chowdhry, an Indian artist, who pays homage to women’s accounts of traumatic events like the Jallianwala Bagh, The partition of India through her exhibition – Broken Column: The Monuments of Forgetting, exhibited at the Women Made Gallery in Chicago in the United States.

Ahead of April 13, 2022 – the 102nd anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and India’s 76th Independence Day – Chowdhry stressed that his aim was not to “speak for women”, but to let her experiential art the installations “invite viewers to bear witness, providing a space for mourning, remembrance and reparation”.

“During the partition in 1947, India was divided along religious lines and 20 million people were displaced: Hindus crossed the border into India and Muslims into Pakistan. Two million people died in violent Partition riots and, less well known, more than 300,000 Muslim, Sikh, Bengali and Hindu women were raped. Likewise, women were the erased victims of the partition of Pakistan when Bangladesh was formed in 1971. So when a memory is unbearable, how do you commemorate it? highlighted the artist who holds a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Studio Art and a Master of Arts (MA) in Visual Culture and Gender Studies from UW-Madison, and has taught at Macalester College and at the College of Visual Arts in St Paul, Minnesota, USA.

As part of the exhibition, the artist has created latex casts of the Jallianwallan Bagh memorial in Punjab, India; the Minar-e-Pakistan Memorial in Lahore, Pakistan; and the Martyr Intellectuals Monument at Rayer Bazar, Dhaka, Bangladesh (Source: PR Handout)

As part of the exhibition, Chowdhry created latex casts of the Jallianwallan Bagh memorial in Punjab, India; the Minar-e-Pakistan Memorial in Lahore, Pakistan; and the Martyr Intellectuals Monument at Rayer Bazar, Dhaka, Bangladesh. “I bring these three monuments together to illustrate what is left out in the formation of collective memories about India’s partition,” she said, adding that women’s experiences are “often elided from nationalist narratives because their experiences run counter to the heroic narratives the nation-state would prefer to commemorate and perpetuate about itself”.

Citing that during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War, nearly 2,00,000 to 4,000,000 women were raped, she said. indianexpress.com that women’s experiences of sexual violence, honor killings, honor suicides and ostracism from their families and communities are “virtually erased from the nationalist narratives of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh”.

The work of Pritika Chowdhry (Source: Pritika Chowdhry)

“As a post-colonial feminist artist, I create anti-memorials that center these counter-memories and counter-histories (the widespread sexual violence) of independence movements in all three countries,” Chowdhry described.

She has exhibited her work nationally and internationally in group and solo exhibitions at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, the Queens Museum in New York, the Hunterdon Museum in New Jersey, the Islip Art Museum in Long Island, at the Visual Arts Center in New Jersey, the DoVA Temporary in the University of Chicago, the Brodsky Center at Rutgers University and the Cambridge Art Gallery in Massachusetts.

She also founded the Partition Memorial Project in 2007, on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Partition. His anti-memorial works are quietly provocative, temporary, and incorporate visceral materials and soundscapes, the press release notes. “Partly inspired by the Gujarat pogrom of 2002, and partly by my own family’s history of partition, I have created nine different anti-partition memorials over the past 15 years, and the tenth is in the works,” she shared.

Pritika Chowdhry Pritika Chowdhry’s anti-memorial works are quietly provocative, temporary, and incorporate visceral materials and soundscapes

The “rigidly researched” experiential art installations reveal several different facets of the score, such as: forced migration and border violence; conflicting roles of public monuments; the use of rape as a weapon in communal violence; Mother India as a trope; cyclical occurrence of communal riots since 1947; an archive of the year 1919 and how it sowed the seeds of partition; the second partition that created Bangladesh in 1971; maps and cartography as partition technologies; the English language as a tool of colonization; and the score through the prism of post-memory and diaspora.

Acknowledging that historical narratives are not neutral and are written from a biased perspective, Chowdhry points out that one can only know the minority perspective by “deliberately and consciously engaging in the counter-stories, that is, to tell the historical narratives written by minority populations”.

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