Revealing an untold story
The work of photo-based and internationally acclaimed artist Annu Palakunnathu Matthew will be on display at the Lycoming College Gallery from Feb. 20 through March 27. Matthew will be at the show’s reception, held from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Feb. 20, and will give a gallery talk on the exhibited work.
Matthew is another artist on the Lycoming College art department’s exhibition schedule with an impressive set of credentials. Her recent exhibitions were shown at Sepia International, New York City; the RISD Museum; Newark Art Museum; 2009 Guangzhou Biennial of Photography, China; Tang Museum; and the Smithsonian Institute Museum of National History. She is represented by SepiaEYE in New York City and Tasveer Gallery, India. Her work is included in the book “BLINK” (Phaidon Press, 2002), which “celebrates the quality and vision of today’s 100 most exciting international contemporary photographers,” according to the publisher. She is professor of art and director of the Center for the Humanities at the University of Rhode Island.
The exhibition, called “Between Cultures,” “explores the turmoil of families affected by the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947,” according to the artist’s statement. This refers to the partition of the British Indian Empire which resulted in the creation of the sovereign states of the Dominion of Pakistan and the Union of India in 1947, as well as the displacement of 12 million people over a three month span during which over 1 million people died.
Matthew recently travelled to India on a Fulbright fellowship to research and create the work that would become “Open Wound” – part of the work that will be displayed at Lycoming College later this month.
“I was in India for about 6 months. I was doing my artwork/research on making the stories of families affected by the Partition more accessible and also teaching once a month at India’s first graduate program in photography at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad,” she explained in an email interview.
“As a student growing up in India, my school chose to not even cover this history (the Partition of India) as part of my education. Two of the families that I photographed and interviewed ended up being the parents of my classmates from school,” Matthew said, adding “I had no idea.”
Many of us (including the author of this article) have had no idea, and almost no exposure – to the politics, the scale, or the significance (the history, in short) of a major tragedy of the 20th Century and a significant event in both Indian and world history. In her book “The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India” (Duke University Press, 2000), historian and publisher Urvashi Butalia writes that “The political partition of India caused one of the great human convulsions of history. Never before or since have so many people exchanged their homes and countries so quickly. In the space of a few months, about twelve million people moved between the new, truncated India and the two wings, East and West, of the newly created Pakistan.”
Here’s a feeble attempt to quantify the displacement: imagine every Pennsylvanian (2013 estimates show the current population of the state at just under 13 million people) having to move to a neighboring state by May 15. Yes, some people went by car or bus in 1947, but most travelled on foot.
“There have been artists who have done work in reaction to the work from their personal perspectives. I have tried to make the stories more accessible through my work,” Matthew said. If the work displayed on the artist’s website are any indication, she can consider herself successful. Images subtly fade from victims of the partition as they appeared in 1947 to how they look now, or show multiple generations of the same family, their features slowly dissolving into those of their parents. Brief quotes from the subjects of the photos are superimposed over the images, bringing stories to life that started 65 years ago and on the other side of the world.
Find out more by visiting www.lycoming.edu/ art/CurrentGallerySh ows.html and www.annumatthew.com.
To learn more about the Partition of India, or support an organization that is trying to mobilize volunteers to gather stories and create an archivevisit the 1947 Partition Archive online at facebook.co m/1947PartitionArchive.