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The exhibition in Dubai deals with the “absence” of cultural references to the division of British India

DUBAI: “Following British colonial rule, a crucial few weeks in 1947 unleashed complex and still unresolved processes of displacement, fragmentation, conflict and state-building that spanned decades, affecting the societies and peoples of the subcontinent.”

Dubai’s Jameel Arts Center is presenting its latest exhibition “Proposals for a Monument to Partition”.

It has been 75 years since the Partition of British India split into two independent dominions – India and Pakistan (which was later partitioned back into Pakistan and Bangladesh) – causing millions of people to be displaced because of their religion in what is believed to be the biggest refugee crisis of all time triggered (mass migration continued for many years afterwards). It also sparked widespread violence that claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands (a conservative estimate) on both sides of the newly created border.

No wonder, then, that the exhibition’s curator, Sharjah-born writer and art historian Murtaza Vali, called the split a “fundamental trauma” – one that still has a clear impact on events in the Global South.

For Vali, “Proposals for a Memorial to Partition” brings together a number of themes that have occupied him for many years – including trauma, displacement, nationalism and the rise of authoritarianism.

The idea for the exhibition originated in a work that Vali created in 2011 for the 10th

The curator of the exhibition is the Sharjah-born writer and art historian Murtaza Vali. (included)

“I was very interested in the dialectical tension between treason and patriotism and how it is basically the sovereign power of the nation-state that decides who is considered a traitor and who is considered a patriot,” Vali told Arab News. “In the South Asian context, nationalism plays a big role. Nationalism was the movement that helped us become independent. So nationalism has this very strong anti-colonial bias, which also entails liberating politics. But there were also very important thinkers who were wary of nationalism and its evils from the start.

“Growing up as a South Asian in the United Arab Emirates, I felt this pull towards national identity – because I grew up with this feeling of never quite being at home where I was – but also with a suspicion of it,” he continues. “So I came up with six essays that explored borderline figures that straddled that very fine line between betrayal and patriotism.” He also invited six artists to contribute work to the book. “I had to look for a format that made sense in this context and I came up with the idea of ​​soliciting proposals for a monument to the division,” he explains.

Nalini Malani, “Reminder”. (included)

The division, Vali says, has been on his mind for a while. His interest in artists dealing with history meant he was “aware of one or two important works … that explored the legacy of partition,” but as he researched further, he found that there were also ” This kind of absence around the subject existed, which was particularly revealing in the visual arts and culture. Very few artists attempted to engage with or depict the violence, displacement and trauma involved in the decades following Partition.”

“So I was quite intrigued by this idea of ​​absence,” he continues. “What about this event made it in some way unpresentable? It’s like the Holocaust: It’s such a terrible incident that it can no longer be portrayed from today’s perspective.”

“So that’s where this idea came in, to make proposals for a monument to the division; Actually asking people to imagine a place, event, ritual, or object that would help address this lack of acknowledgment of underlying trauma.”

Aside from the horrors of the division, Vali believes there are other reasons for this “absence”. “It was an event that (went hand in hand) with independence,” he says. “So one of my theories is that it’s difficult to identify (a single) culprit because the violence – the riots, the killings, the kidnapping and raping of women – was (carried out) on both sides. So everyone go ahead and forget it. The other thing is that with independence there is a strong push towards building and developing and modernizing nations and uplifting the poor. And in this optimism everything that disturbs this national spirit is swept under the rug. I was also interested in researching some of that.”

Visitors will see Bani Abidi’s video installations “Mangoes” and “Mother’s Lands” and Nabla Yahya’s “Silsila” cyanotypes. (included)

From those six original proposals, the project has now expanded (and may continue to do so, Vali says he always envisioned it as “a cumulative project”) with three newly commissioned works and proposals from a dozen other artists to include The multitude of proposals (including a cross-border collection of plant seeds, a curriculum, an audio installation and more), he explains, are intentional – and acknowledging that there can be no one memorial that fits all. And the proposal format allows for “a degree of poetic or utopian or surreal thinking; it takes some of the pressure off because the project never has to be realised.”

The results are certainly thought-provoking, often simple – as simple as a t-shirt, say, or Amitava Kumar’s suggestion of giving “pairs” of gifts, each pair consisting of one item from each country – and often emotional. Faiza Hasan’s moving proposal, for example, combines charcoal drawings of her grandmother’s photographs and knick-knacks with official documents, including one stating that a requested birth certificate cannot be issued because “the relevant register is not available”; Dubai-based artist Nabla Yahya created ‘Silsila’, a series of cyanotypes centered around a photograph of the original Kashmir accession document.

“There were a couple of people (from Kashmiri) who came up to me,” says Vali, “and said, ‘It’s amazing that everything that’s happened in the last 75 years, all the violence and injustice – the document what set it in motion is so mundane.’”

Amitava Kumar, “Small Proposals for a Memorial”, series of four digital drawings. (included)

There’s humor here too, most evidently in an installation by Pak Khawateen Painting Club – a collective of Pakistani women artists – that resembles the sort of anonymous government offices so many of us are familiar with, where time seems to stretch on endlessly as you gaze upon it someone is waiting to stamp something: a brown wooden desk, a potted plant, neatly organized folders; a swivel chair…

“They came back to us with this idea of ​​creating a discourse folder between different departments in any kind of bureaucratic structure – each of them taking on a role in a different department,” explains Vali. “The entire communication is completely false – basically an example of how post-colonial bureaucratic inertia makes it almost impossible to realize a project like a monument to division.”

The variety of approaches shown seems to confirm Vali’s theory that there cannot be a single memorial to this event. But maybe the show itself could fill that role? It is certainly a strong effort. And relevant.

“I think partition is this trauma that repeats itself cyclically, so many of the ongoing problems across South Asia are all traumatic consequences of partition,” says Vali. “I hope the show gives people a chance to think about it and have conversations about this topic.

“I also hope that the show – in whatever small way – conveys that spirit of ever-mitigating patriotism with a degree of self-reflection about what it means. It comes back to something I hold dear, which is the importance of being suspicious of nationalism,” he continues. “It’s a powerful, strong battle cry, and it’s a source of identity and belonging, but it can also get dark very quickly.”

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