On the 70th anniversary of the Partition of Colonial India, an exhibition at PICA Galleries explores the complex socio-political relationship between India and Pakistan
The year 2017 marks the 70th anniversary of the Partition of Colonial India (14 August 1947) that saw the departing British colonial powers divide the country—West of the Partition became Muslim-majority Pakistan, while the rest of the country was demarcated as Hindu-majority India. The partition led to one of the greatest forced mass migrations in human history—resulting in more than one million deaths.
In response to the anniversary of the Partition, ‘I don’t want to be there when it happens’ investigates, in a broader sense, the psychology of trauma in an era of perpetual conflict. Starting from the complex socio-political relationship between India and Pakistan, this exhibition features artists from both Pakistan and India whose evocative practices convey the profound existential unease of our age, either directly or indirectly. They unravel the present time, dealing with the legacy of history, as well as foretelling the future.
A number of problems and contradictions are challenging the world in recent years: a diffused sense of inequality, systemic poverty connected with violence and crime, military imperialism, and the phenomenon of migration, which has now reached the dimension of a mass, multi-origin diaspora.
Artworks include Adeela Suleman’s elegant hand-beaten chandelier, which uses her ubiquitous dead bird motifs to subtly recall suicide bombings in Pakistan, and Abdullah Syed’s disquieting installation of suspended drones made of razor blades. Sonia Leber and David Chesworth’s birds-eye view video recalls an unidentified Australian non-place.
The limitations of language and routine violence against women are the subjects of Mithu Sen’s poignant video installation, while Reena Kallat’s poetic series of photographs document a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, written on a beach in salt and inevitably washed away by the ocean.
Raj Kumar’s prayer mats are made of thousands of large dice, displayed to recall the architectural magnificence of mosques or cathedrals, while Raqs Media Collective’s transparent flyer bears three pieces of text by American poet Agha Shahid Ali, Pakistani intellectual Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Bengali polymath Rabindranath Tagore. Carved into the paper in their respective languages, these poetic fragments form a pacifist cohabitation beyond borders and languages.
‘I don’t want to be there when it happens’ does not attempt to present any simplistic set of solutions, but rather reaffirms the rejection of violence as well as the need for more effective and profound structures for dialogue through conscious acts of engagement.
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts Senior Curator Eugenio Viola said, “For my curatorial debut here in Australia, I wanted to address some of the most complex circumstances present in the world today. Particularly the re-emergence of religious extremism, prejudice and discrimination against national minorities, as I firmly believe that art must create bridges instead of borders and re-affirm the co-existence of all possible differences.”
This exhibition is organised in partnership with 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art Sydney and has been expanded for its presentation at PICA.
‘I don’t want to be there when it happens’ was opened by Dr Zarrin Siddiqui, President of Pakistanis in Australia and Associate Professor in Medical Education at UWA, on Friday 10 November alongside another group exhibition, Remedial Works.
The exhibition, open to all, is on till 24 December at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Perth Cultural Centre, 51 James Street, Northbridge.
And there’s more…
PICA Galleries plays host to more events in November and December
~ The Midnight March
A response to the 12 million people who were displaced during the India-Pakistan partition. Performance followed by Q&A with Director, Jay Emmanuel and PICA Curator, Eugenio Viola.
Friday 24 November, 6-7pm
~ Curatorial Tour with Eugenio Viola on the occasion of Human Rights Day
Sunday 10 December, 2-3pm
~ Open Studio Night with artists Bonnie Lane (USA), Ross Hamilton Frew (UK) and Sophie Durand (WA)
Tuesday 12 December, 6-7.30pm
~ Paper-cutting workshops with artist Tusif Ahmad
Saturday 18 November, 10.30am-1pm; (7-12 years); 2-4.30pm (Adults)
Cost: $25 (Adult) / $30 (7-12)