The Partition here is not the end or the beginning. It is a definitive moment when inhabitants from both sides of the border, perhaps, looked out of their windows, the manner in which visitors look into the Amar Kanwar projection, with half-opened window panes, at his untitled exhibit. Words from noted poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poem Subd-e-Azadi resonate in the backdrop, in Faiz’s own voice, “Ye dagh dagh ujala, ye shab-gazida sehar, wo intezar tha jiska ye who sehar toh nahi (This leprous brightness, this dawn which reeks of night. This is not the one — the long-awaited morn),” he reads.
“It was the only poem he wrote on the Partition. When I asked him why, he said we just could not cope,” says Faiz’s daughter Salima Hashmi. Years after the revolutionary poet penned the work, his Lahore-based, Delhi-born daughter has used it as the starting point of the exhibition “The Night Bitten Dawn”, in Delhi. “Artists here proceed towards a scrutiny, troublesome and persistent, of communities that carried with them the sounds of lullabies embedded in the bones and ashes that their ancestors left behind. They never fully abandoned the ideas of ‘home’. Instead, they rearranged them in myriad ways as the pain subsided and the hearts were induced to heal,” says Hashmi, of the exhibition that brings together artists from across the border.
If Somnath Hore’s Wound series (1970) has incisions to signify the hurtful trauma of Partition, in Roohi Ahmad’s video See Sow (2015), the Karachi-based artist has lines being sewn on a hand with a red thread and then slowly pulled off, leaving marks behind.
Ayesha Zulfiqar Sheikh’s Slice (2009) is a piece of concrete with rubbles and remains, broken glass and plastic. While the steps of the multi-storeyed building have prints of Anita Dube’s Meat Words (2005) — with words carved out of meat — her seminal work Silence: Blood Wedding (1997) also features in the exhibition. The Delhi-based artist covers human bones with velvet and lace, thread and beads, enclosed in glass, suggesting pleasure and pain.
The shared history and common past comes through in the works of artists who revisit their roots. Asma Mundrawala has her now Karachi-based mother imitating the call of a hawker that she recalls listening to as a child in Gujarat in Before it Fades (2015-2016), and Gargi Raina’s work title Constructing the Memory of a Room (2001) appears self explanatory. “It is the memory she drew from a visit to her native home in Pakistan. When families there came to know she was visiting, Gargi was offered several trousseaus to take back, she was the daughter of the house,” shares Hashmi.
There are artists who depict the futility of the situation too — Sheba Chhachhi’s Cleave/Cleave To (2016), is a video projection of Siamese twins floating in a glass container, suggesting the inability to separate. Farida Batool’s lenticular print Line Of Control (2004), meanwhile, has the border in the form of a line formed by the fusion of two bodies.
The beauty of the exhibition though lies in the fact that the works made with varied intentions have been reinterpreted to perfectly fit the theme. Ranging from Bengal artist Somnath Hore to Ayesha Zulfiqar, the youngest artist in the exhibition, the juxtaposition that crisscrosses through generations spans various emotions. “We tried not to to dwell too much on sadness,” says Hashmi.
We see subtle humour in Mangoes (2002), a single-channel Bani Abadi video, where she features as twins, Pakistani and Indian, relishing the fruit, recalling memories of childhood but also recalling who has better mangoes. “It is like sibling rivalry, one wishes it remains that way,” says Hashmi.
The exhibition at 24, Jor Bagh, Delhi, is on till February 29.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines