River-River

A Journey Through Partitions

A video installation by George Peck and Sheba Remy Kharbanda.

THE PROJECT

RIVER­-RIVER explores events surrounding the Partition of India, which occurred in the summer of 1947 and involved the drawing of borders through the regions of Bengal and Punjab across religious lines.

This multi layered installation, comprised of multiple video projections light altering filters* and scrim walls transforms the environment into which this work is placed into create visually powerful interpretation of this historical event. An accompanying audio soundtrack traces the journey taken by more than twelve million people in the days leading up to August 15, 1947, when, “..at the stroke of midnight..”, the newly independent states of Pakistan and India were created. In the wake of Partition, hundreds of thousands of families were divided across imagined and literal borders and records suggest that up to one million people had lost their lives.

This sight pacific installation is centered on the personal story of Kharbanda’s father, Amrik Singh, a Punjabi/Afghani Sikh and former senior member of the Indian Police Service who, in the months leading up to Partition, at the age of nine, migrated from the Northwest Frontier Province (situated between Afghanistan and what is now Pakistan) to West Punjabi (India) with his family. Through memory recall, Singh reflects on leaving his childhood home behind, ostensibly forever, of the challenges and struggles that awaited the family in the wake of the dissolution of the British Empire.

RIVER­-RIVER installation will transform the viewers into participants as they enter into this visual, oral and poetic space. This is a journey through the migration, displacement and the attendant experience of remaking home in the wake of this particularly disruptive moment in the history of the Subcontinent.

George Peck has created this installation utilizing archival and found footage, as well as material researched, photographed and filmed by Kharbanda and her partner, William Moss, with additional video by Peck; the inclusion of pre and post­Partition poetry in Punjabi and Urdu creates a compelling environment of a sensual space which viewers are invited to participate as fellow travelers.This is a journey that is both specific to the Subcontinent but also, in the 21st century, increasingly common to scores of people the world over.

 

 

THE BACKGROUND

The partition of India was set forth in the Indian Independence Act 1947 and resulted in the dissolution of the British Indian Empire and the end of the British Raj. Partition resulted in the creation of the Dominion of Pakistan, that later split into the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, and the Union of India (later the Republic of India). The creation of India and Pakistan as separate sovereign nation states came at the cost the cost of the division of Punjab, named for the five rivers that run through it (Panj = five, Ab = water), as well of Bengal on the Eastern coast of India.

RIVER­RIVER focuses primarily on the partitioning of the region of Punjab although the story it tells is one shared by all Subcontinentals and arguably those the across the world who have experienced physical displacement of one kind or another.

The Punjab is a geographical region in the Northwestern area of the Indian subcontinent which extends into the foothills of the majestic Himalayas. Holding almost a mythic association for Punjabis – an ancient groupings of peoples who originate in Persia and beyond and have historically tilled the soil­rich land ­ the region of Punjab had for centuries been a collective home to Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs whose differences in organized faith were bridged by a lively and vibrant literary, musical, poetic, linguistic and culinary tradition.

Given the enormity of this event, the subject of Partition has yet to be given due coverage and treatment. Yet a need is a emerging both from within the diasporic communities which were created in Partition’s wake and by the children and grandchildren of those who experienced it and who carry – consciously and unconsciously – the wounded memories of that time. The piece expresses a sense of isolation and loss through the recalled emotional memories of a childhood interrupted by and a life formed through the tragic event of Partition. It has the effect of creating ephemeral connections bridging lost and recovered memories.

This project builds on Peck’s work and Kharbanda’s body of video and oral history work on the Partition of India and displacement in the South Asian Diaspora more generally. It seeks to create a space in which to inspire thoughtful reflection on migration and displacement ­ an increasingly widespread experience across the globe today – as well as the gift of memory and remembrance.

 

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