Review of Five Rivers: A Portrait of Partition

Staged inside a shamiyana (tent-house), the video-installation Five Rivers: A Portrait of Partition, a documentary in cyclorama by diasporic artist Sheba Remy Kharbanda and William Charles ‘Chuck’ Moss narrates Amrik Singh’s (Sheba’s father's) personal account of the 1947 Partition of the Indian subcontinent into India and Pakistan. The Partition studies is largely divided into the narratives based on ‘high politics’ and ‘subaltern studies.’ In order to dissipate the political somberness, the need to acknowledge the genocidal violence which has caused moments of rupture in the history of subcontinent’s Independence is often relegated to the margins.

The subaltern representation of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent by the artists, Sheba and Chuck, in the form of video installation brings novel understanding to the memory of historical trauma. Diasporic art has played a chief role in the blurring of boundaries and raising collective identity. Sheba, as a diasporic artist informed from close quarters, brings to the fore what do the ideas of loss, pain and trauma mean for a third generation vis-à-vis Partition. In the making of alternative voice, diasporic art opens a platform to talk and discuss uneasiness faced by the calm narratives of high politics.

The Partition scholarship - literary studies, Indian cinema and Indian modern art - have continuously dealt with the pain of Partition 1947. However, what makes the artwork Five Rivers: A Portrait of Partition stand apart from rest of the aesthetic rendering is the immediate engagement shared between the artwork and audience. The shamiyana stands as a metaphor for the memory: receptive of the time and immortalizing the event. The video installation played inside a shamiyana deploys interactive public space to carefully juxtapose the poetic verses, autobiographical narration and photo-montage. The art of replicating memory to the moving space of an artwork is not just pioneer, but also highlights the inexorable fleeting sense of spatial and temporal zones. 

-- Dr Alka Pande, The Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi India, August 3, 2016