On June 3, 1947, Lord Mountbatten announced his government’s decision to divide British India into two successor states: India and Pakistan. The day before, June 2 – which happened to be a Monday – he had visited Mahatma Gandhi, who was fiercely opposed to the idea of ​​partition.

Gandhi had sworn to observe silence every Monday, and he was adamant about it. So he communicated with Mountbatten by writing notes on the back of used envelopes. A collection of five such envelopes – the only remaining record of the historic exchange – is the “centerpiece” of “Tangled Hierarchy”, an exhibition curated by renowned Indian artist and curator Jitish Kallat. The exhibition opened on June 2, the 75th anniversary of this momentous exchange, and will run until June 10 at the John Hansard Gallery at the University of Southampton.

“When he took his vow of a weekly day of silence, Gandhi had reserved the right to speak twice,” explains Kallat. “…to speak to senior officials on urgent matters or to attend to sick people. But he wrote [on one of the envelopes] to Mountbatten: “I know you don’t want me to break my silence”. Gandhi was letting Mountbatten know that his silence was charged, his disapproval of the score was known to the public domain, and he was aware that the latter would prefer silence.

Bringing “Gandhi envelopes” to the center of the conversation was important, according to the curator. “They refer, of course, to that historic moment, which then unfolded as the tragedy of partition – and the violence and bloodshed that followed in the weeks that followed. But they also build relationships between silence and speech, and between body and borders,” he says.

The exhibition cleverly mixes archival and scientific artifacts, alongside works by contemporary artists. One such artifact is a “mirror box” – a therapy box invented by Indian-American neuroscientist VS Ramachandran to treat post-amputation patients suffering from “phantom limb pain”. “Phantom pain (a lingering pain in a part of the body that is no longer present) is a recurring trope in the exhibit,” says Kallat. “On the one hand you have this ‘Mirror Box’ by neuroscientist VS Ramachandran, and British artist Alexa Wright’s ‘After Image’ series which documents amputees as well as stories of their phantom pain, and on the other side is essentially a photograph of Homai Vyarawala, India’s first female photojournalist, who documented the ratification of partition in the Indian National Congress. The photo shows several of its members raising their hands in acceptance. These hands have another dimension of meaning when read alongside these images of amputation and pain.There is a hidden prompt to see the amputation of the body with the amputation of the earth.

The curator says the pain and struggle of displacement – ​​particularly in the wake of partition – is another underlying theme of the exhibit. It is examined by the installations of the Palestinian artist Mona Hatoum and the work of the late Indian-American artist Zarina, “Atlas of My World”. A precariously suspended glass material that when combined forms a map of the world is one of Hatoum’s installations. In another work, a cut-out map could be seen mutating in a bag. This installation is exhibited together with two luggage trunks of refugees from the time of the partition. The archival material was loaned by the Partition Museum in Amritsar. Zarina’s “Atlas of My World” includes prints that show stretched borders across the world. “Zarina is a child of the score; his family moved at the time of partition,” says Kallat. “[Her work] comes from this story.

American artist Paul Pfeiffer’s digital video loop, ‘Caryatid’, features footage of football players repeatedly falling on the pitch. “These are real footage from a match. But you would find that something is off with the video,” says Kallat. the falling person has been erased from the screen. Normally a foul occurs when someone is about to hit a goal. You will find that players always fall close to a line, which is also a kind of border on a football pitch A game is nothing more than a metaphor for the world.

Kallat adds that these falling figures take on a different dimension or meaning when someone sees them alongside “Games in a Refugee Camp at Kurukshetra” – a photograph by Henry Cartier-Bresson at the exhibition. The black and white photograph from 1947 documents a group of men playing in a camp after partition. “The photograph shows a moment of light in a very tense refugee camp,” says Kallat. “Everyone in the photo looks like they’re falling. In a way, Paul Pfeiffer’s recent video speaks to this historic photograph.

The exhibit also captures how history repeats itself, particularly in the context of war and violence. It is best reflected in Ukrainian artist Mykola Ridnyi’s video work, “Seacoast”. Shot on the Black Sea coast, the video shows a static horizon dotted with figures of fishermen, with jellyfish periodically splashing the ground, framed by the sound of warplanes and bombs. Ridnyi created this video in response to the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008.

“It’s almost like a replay happening today [with Russia invading Ukraine]“, explains Kallat. “And it’s almost like a causal loop – a circular chain of variables affecting each other – coming back.”

The curator adds that the idea of ​​causal loops or the cyclical nature of history resonates throughout ‘Tangled Hierarchy’. “As I was finalizing the details of the project, I realized that the human displacement currently occurring during the Ukraine crisis mirrors the human displacement during the Indian partition,” he says. “It comes back again to this question of the eternal return of human tragedy or human madness or human aggression.”


What form could this take at Starz?


FACTS & STATS: Verstappen equals Clark-Lauda win tally with record 66th Red Bull podium

Check Also