Art that Creates Connections: Socio-Political Artist Pritika Chowdhry’s Anti-Memorial About Partitions

Pritika Chowdhry. Ringa-Ringa-Roses II, part of Remembering the Crooked Line, 2009-10. Tea-dyed khaddar cotton, burnt map lines, wire, wax. 10′ x 10′ x 10′.

Indians and Pakistanis love cricket, kabaddi, kite-flying, chess, and parchisi. These sports and games unite the people on both sides of the border. Their languages are also similar – Hindi and Urdu have the same grammar and phonology. They are almost the same languages; the people of both countries can easily understand each other. Hindu and Muslims lived in the sub-continent for many years; they shared a common heritage, culture, and language. The Partition caused Hindu and Muslims to separate into two different states, i.e., India and Pakistan.

In Remembering the Crooked Line, Chowdhry thinks of maps as the skin of a nation. She manifests maps on garments, board games, and kites. She uses silk, cotton, paper, wax, and pig guts to create skin-like surfaces on the kites, bodices, and shirts. She then draws the maps and the newly created borders on the garments using burning tools, ink, hair, and thread to metaphorically manifest the ruptures caused by the borders on the skin of the nation. She uses wire to create barbed wire structures in the bodices and surgical sutures on the kites to make gestures of repair. Chowdhry first created the installation in 2009, and subsequently, it has been on view at Rohtas 2 gallery in Lahore, Pakistan in 2011, Indian-run gallery Nature Morte in Berlin in 2012, and “Erasing Borders” at the Hammond Museum in North Salem in 2013.

Pritika Chowdhry. Ringa-Ringa-Roses I, part of Remembering the Crooked Line, 2009-10. Tassar silk, wire, embroidery thread, hair, wax. 10′ x 10′ x 10′. Children’s kurtis with maps embroidered with thread and hair, stiffened with wax, spotlit and hung with thread.

The first four parts of Chowdhry’s installation, or anti-memorial, depicts local games such as ring-a-ring-a-roses, chess, parchisi, and kite flying. The primary motive of representing these local games is to show the similarities between the cultures of these partitioned countries. The people of these countries also play these local games. In this way, she highlights the transnational connection between these countries, while highlighting the Partition.

The Muslim minority in India celebrate Eid, and the Hindu minority in Pakistan celebrate Diwali. However, the festival of Basant is similarly observed in both countries. Both countries are famous for their kite-flying contests during  Basant and their delicious cuisines; they often share the same recipes and dishes. Religious ideologies were the basis of the Partition of India, not cultural identity. The Partition divided Hindus and Muslims with a new border, but they still share common cultural identities. India and Pakistan have several ongoing political disputes, but there are many similarities between the two countries. India and Pakistan have several ongoing political disputes, but there are many similarities between the two countries.

Pritika Chowdhry. The Crooked Lines, part of Remembering the Crooked Line, 2009-10. Digitally printed dupioni silk panels, walnut ink, embroidery thread, wood, pillows, dice, and discs set. 24″ x 10″ x 6″ each panel, installed dimensions 10′ x 10′ x 10′. Parchisi Panel made of Dupioni silk, with map digitally printed and then hand-painted, and hand-embroidered, mounted on a wooden stand, with pillows for viewers to sit down and play a game of parchisi.

The fifth part of the project consists of a multi-layered soundscape. You can hear the speeches of the founders of the newly created independent states due to the partitions – India, Pakistan, Israel, and Ireland. The name Anti-Memorial, “The Skin of a Nation,” also refers to the theme of suffering and sacrifice. For example, the people of these states made great sacrifices for freedom. They lost their lives, families, and property. In other words, they lay down their lives (skins) for an independent state.

Chowdhry named the installation after a famous post-colonial novel, Terhi Lakeer (The Crooked Line), written by Ismat Chugtai. The story explores the relationship and cultural similarities between India and Ireland. The novel’s protagonist is a young Muslim woman in India who eventually marries an Irish journalist. Chugtai is gesturing towards the shared partition history of India and Ireland in this novel.

In the ongoing series Partition Memorial Project, Chowdhry explores transnational connections between nations partitioned in the colonial era or during the Cold war era by creating new artificial borders. Randolph Bourne introduced the term “trans-nation” in the 20th century. According to Randolph, it is a new way of thinking about relationships and connections between different nations and cultures. The concept of “transnationalism” refers to linking people across borders. Chowdhry examines the transnational connections between the histories of partitions in these countries.

A game of Parchisi constructed from panels of maps printed on dupioni silk panels. The boxes in each Parchisi panel are painted with walnut ink, and the partition line is hand-embroidered with colored threads.

For example, Ireland and India were both colonies of the British Empire. Ireland and Indian revolutionaries had contact with each other and even provided safe houses for each other. Surprisingly, there’s also a similarity between the flags of both countries. Similarly, Palestine was partitioned on 29th November 1947, a mere three months after the Partition of India.

So far the project consists of nine installations, including Silent Waters, Remembering the Crooked Line, What the Body Remembers, Handful of Dust, and Broken Column. Chowdhry is currently preparing for two solo shows at ARC and the Chicago Department of Art to open in July and August 2022 where she will continue to investigate these themes.

India and Pakistan also have cultural connections through folk tales of Heer-Ranjha, Sassi-Panu, and Mirza-Sahiba, popular in both countries. Hindus and Muslims also share similar cultural heritage. Historic attractions like the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, and Taj Mahal in Agra, India, were built by Mughal architects, and are much revered by Hindus and Muslims, alike.

Both states were British Colonies, and they fought side-by-side for their independence from the British. With increased tension between Hindus and Muslims in India, artworks like Chowdhry’s that offer space for healing, convening, and deeper historical context are vital.

Artist Bio 

Pritika Chowdhry’s goal is to reveal the counter-memories hidden in tragic historical events through her art; that is why she creates anti-memorials. She opposes genocide, gender-based and ethnic violence. She believes that violence against any gender, race, religion, and country is wrong.

She also presents her work nationally and internationally in various art exhibitions such as in the Weisman Museum (Minneapolis), Queen Museum (New York), the Hunterdon Museum (New Jersey), Islip art Museum, Visual Arts Center Of New Jersey, and Cambridge Art Gallery (Massachusetts). She is also the recipient of many art grants such as the Vilas International Travel fellowship, Wisconsin Art Board Grant, and Minnesota States Arts Board grant.

Chowdhry was born and brought up in India, and she is an installation artist and scholar. Her current residence is in Chicago, USA. She has done an MFA in Studio Arts from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She also works with various mediums in her artwork, such as fiber, clay, paper, latex, wood, drawing, and ceramics.

Author Bio

Tahira Rani Ali is an arts and culture writer with four years of experience writing articles for different websites. Tahira loves creativity, books, articles, research, and literature. She has an MS in English Literature and Language from Lahore College for Women, University, Pakistan, 2020. She has done a thesis on the topic of Existential Angst in Colson Whitehead’s novel, The Underground Railroad.

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