TWELVE million people were displaced and more than a million died when the Brits pulled-out of India in 1947 and it was split into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan.
Seventy years on, Partition remains at the heart of ongoing tensions between the two countries.
The PICA exhibition I Don’t Want to be There When It Happens, marks the anniversary with works denouncing violence and religious conflict.
“For my curatorial debut here in Australia, I wanted to react to some of the most complex circumstances present in the world today,” says Eugenio Viola, PICA’s new senior curator.
“Particularly the re-emergence of religious extremism, prejudice and discrimination against national minorities, as I firmly believe that art must create bridges instead of borders and re-affirm the co-existence of all possible differences.”
The works unravel the present while dealing with the legacy of history, as well as foretelling the future.
Adeela Suleman’s elegant hand-beaten chandelier is redolent of dead birds, subtly recalling suicide bombings in Pakistan, while Abdullar Syed’s disquieting installation of suspended drones is made of razor blades.
Symbolising impermanence, Reena Kallat’s photographs document a poem by Rabindranath Tagore, written in salt on the beach and washed away by the sea.
The exhibition is in partnership with 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art Sydney, a much smaller space than PICA’s galleries.
“I decided to add to the original set of mainly Pakistani artists, some Indian artists,” says Viola.
“In this way, the complex relationship between India and Pakistan became a kind of hypertext, in order to address, more generally, our ‘traumatic times’.
In fact, some of the problems connected with the Partition, like the intolerance towards minorities for religious issues, as well as a mass migration of people, related to an upsurge of intolerance and to civil wars, are problems that we can sadly experience till today.”
Sonia Leber and David Chesworth’s birds-eye footage of an unidentified lonely and desolate Australian non-place is unsettling.
Viola, who hails from Naples, says Perth’s isolation is a matter of perspective.
“I understood how Australia connected with Asian only when I came here,” he says.
Viola, selected from an international field of candidates and awarded a three-year contract at PICA, has curated exhibitions around the world and was voted best Italian curator of 2016 by Italian art magazine Artribune.
He continues to collaborate on a regular basis with Artforum (USA) and Arte (Italy) and writes articles for a number of art magazines.
I Don’t Want to be There When it Happens is on at PICA, James Street, Northbridge November 11 to December 24. Entry free.
by JENNY D’ANGER