Exhibitions on Independence and Partition to see around the world

As the nations of India and Pakistan celebrate 75 years of independence — and commemorate the act of division that brought it about — cultural institutions are staging exhibitions and artistic interventions to celebrate this moment. These not only provide instructive information about an important period of history, but also an opportunity to reflect on the state of both nations today. Artistic responses can help us see division as an ongoing process; an act that is repeated over and over again and continues to shape the future of both countries.

Many of these exhibitions also look at how the mass displacement and violence that took place 75 years ago is connected to other communities and historical events around the world – such as the displacement of South Asian migrants from Uganda exactly 50 years ago. Accordingly, Independence Day exhibitions will not only be held in South Asia, but also in countries with significant South Asian diasporas such as Britain, the United Arab Emirates and Australia, whose migrant communities also have their own unique ties to division and colonialism.

India, Pakistan and online

Hum Sab Sahmat: resisting the nation for its citizensSafdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, New Delhi, until August 15

A chalkboard with lines from the Dalit suicide note from 2017 (the lowest rank within the Indian caste system) Student Rohith Vemula is one of the more poignant inclusions in a show that takes a critical look at 75 years of Indian history to ask: what exactly has the nation achieved with its independence? More cautious than celebratory, this expansive group exhibition of paintings, poetry, historical artifacts and digital installations questions the definitions and limits of the freedoms won during India’s post-colonial period and how they are being further eroded in the current political climate.

Accordingly, the show avoids the triumphant narrative peddled by the Indian government in the run-up to Independence Day celebrations. A number of works addressed recent chapters in the nation’s history, including the protests surrounding the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Hindu nationalist, casteist, and majoritarian impulses that prompted them. The exhibition is organized and hosted by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust, a forum for promoting democratic unity among artists, named after the 20th-century communist play. Its co-founder, Ram Rahman, says the exhibition will travel to a number of different Indian cities this year.

March to FreedomIndian Museum, Calcutta, until September 18th

More than 160 works from the collection of the Indian applied art gallery DAG can be seen in the oldest art institution in the country, the Indian Museum in Kolkata. 18th-century watercolors depicting merchants from the East India Company combine with paintings of 20th-century protest movements to tell a non-linear story of Indian independence that extends to the present day. Later this year, four of the museum’s galleries will reopen to the public after a major renovation.

The Independence ProjectIFBE, Mumbai, 15-20 August

The newly established creative hub IFBE, housed in a former ice cream factory in Mumbai’s Ballard Estate, will host its first annual Independence Day exhibition: a creative arts festival that will run over six days. This includes a sales exhibition of photographs by seven artists who grew up in Dharavi’s famous slum, with all proceeds benefiting the non-profit Dharavi Art Room.

Virtual LBF Museum: 75 Years of Pakistan’s Cultural Historyonline (soon)

The foundation behind Pakistan’s most prominent art exhibition will soon create a digital archive spanning 75 years of Pakistan with the intention of building a virtual museum of the country’s cultural history. Sections curated for this project include Women’s Movements of the 1980s, National Cinema and Oral Traditions.

India Ki UdaanGoogle Arts and Culture

Google Arts and Culture has launched “a celebration of the steadfast and immortal spirit of India and its 75 years of independence”. It features illustrations of the historical milestones on the nation’s journey to liberation from colonial rule and beyond. These include India’s space program, women’s rights movements and its first democratic votes. The project was initiated by India’s Tourism Minister G. Kishan Reddy.

Great Britain and USA

Stools similar to those used in the villages where Osman Yousefzada’s parents were born will be placed in the V&A courtyard What is seen and what is not © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Osman Yousefzada: What is seen and what is notVictoria & Albert Museum, London, until September 25

British-Pakistani fashion designer and artist Osman Yousefzada has made a series of artistic interventions in one of the most magnificent – and imperial – buildings in all of London: the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). Yousefzada, a second-generation immigrant who grew up in Birmingham, presents aspects of his family history alongside that of their colonizers, challenging the hierarchies that have long dictated the institutional presentation of both.

In the atrium hangs a trio of tapestries made in a Karachi factory depicting characters from an Indian and Ottoman omen book. The museum’s courtyard is stacked with loungers in bright greens and blues, modeled after those from the villages where his parents came from. Also, a wooden ship typically used by mangrove coastal communities in Pakistan highlights the vulnerability of entire villages to climate change and sea level rise. This work was commissioned by the British Council in association with the Pakistan High Commission as part of the festival Pakistan/UK: New Perspective.

Manisha Gera Baswani: Postcards from homeAshmolean Museum, Oxford, until March 12, 2023

The Delhi-based artist stages a recreation of her ongoing series Postcards from home, in which she photographs artists from India and Pakistan. The exhibition has been shown at major exhibitions in both countries, including the Lahore Biennial and the Kochi Biennial. It is perhaps the most significant public art project in recent memory to be shown across this contested national border.

Jitish Kallat: Cover letterJohn Hansard Gallery, Southampton, until September 10th

Curated by Mumbai artist Jitish Kallat, this group show includes five rare, handwritten letters written by Mahatma Gandhi to Lord Mountbatten in 1947, the day before the Indian viceroy signed a decree dividing British India into two separate nations. They form the basis of an exhibition on language, violence and national borders with works by Kader Attia, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Zarina and a new installation by Kallat.

Read more about the show here.

Unbearable memories, unspeakable stories, South Asia Institute Chicago (until December 10)

Since 2007, Pritika Chowdhry has created a group of “anti-monuments” based on partition history (including the 1971 partition of East and West Pakistan that formed Bangladesh). A particular focus of Chowdhry’s work is the numerous reports of sexual violence and kidnapping that women were subjected to during the partition.

rest of the world

Proposals for a Monument to the Division, Jameel Center Dubai, until February 23, 2023

Bani Abidi, Seher Shah and Shilpa Gupta are among the artists in this group exhibition, which consists of 18 memorial proposals for the various divisions of the Indian subcontinent. This exhibition is the most complete version of an 11-year project initiated by curator Murtaza Vali, which he began during the 2012 Sharjah Biennial. He was prompted to do so, he says, because there were so few significant monuments to the historical division of South Asia at the time.

Charkha and KarghaPowerhouse Museum, Ultimo, Sydney until 15 January

This exhibition looks at the role of textiles in India’s struggle for independence and weaves a narrative through 200 objects from the Powerhouse Museum’s collection, many of which were acquired in the 19th century. These include block-printed textiles known as fustat fragments, believed to have been made in Gujarat in the 14th century, and 19th-century fabrics decorated with iridescent, jewel-like beetle wings. Also on display is a recently acquired fabric installation work by artist Sangeeta Sandrasegar. What falls out of sight (2019) features pieces made from khadi (handspun cotton fabric) and silk, hand-dyed with Indian indigo and native Australian cherry.

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