Artist connects revolutionaries on anniversaries of Jallawalian Bagh massacre and partition of Ireland

Installation view of “An Archive of 1919: The Year of the Crack-Up”, at the Whittier Storefront Gallery, in Minneapolis, MN.

Pritika Chowdhry

Close-up of the spittoon engraved “Jallianwallan Bagh” and a map of Amritsar showing where the event took place, on the brick well.

Pritika Chowdhry sheds light on the alliance between Ireland and India through a text she discovered while researching the installation “An Archive of 1919”.

USA, April 13, 2022 / — In 2008, I visited the Jallawallian Bagh Massacre Memorial in Amritsar, India. As I walked through the narrow entrance, I thought of the consequences of the British-led massacre on the global community. Instead of just instilling fear in the Indians, or as the British subjects thought they would, it made the Indian and Irish freedom fighters more engaged. He rallied India and Ireland against their common enemy and colonizer – the British Empire. Perhaps that’s why American architect Benjamin Polk, who built the monument in 1951, made the entrance claustrophobic so that we were surprised by the open expanse with space to gather and build a community beyond its point of entry.

The Jallawallian Bagh massacre is widely reported to have catalyzed India’s freedom movement. Less publicized, however, are the warm relations and mutual support between Indian and Irish revolutionaries that in many ways solidified after the bloody event. On April 13, 1919, General Reginald Dyer led ninety British Army soldiers to a small town called Amritsar in Punjab, India. There he opened fire on a peaceful gathering of men, women and children in a public park called Jallianwallian Bagh. Troops blocked the park’s only passage and fired until they ran out of ammunition. A year later, in 1920, Eamon de Valera, the chairman of the Sinn Fein party in Ireland, published “India & Ireland”, a pamphlet in which he condemned the British for their violence in Amritsar. In it, de Valera compares India and Ireland to George Washington’s fate in liberating the United States. He also presented the text as a speech at the Friends of Freedom dinner in New York for India. In the pamphlet, he details the common goal of the two countries to free themselves from the British.

One of the most important elements of decolonization, or the fight against Eurocentric ideals, is to connect revolutionary events on a global scale. Taking the Jallianwala Bagh massacre as its starting point, my installation “An Archive of 1919” functions as a visual and experiential archive of the year 1919 – weaving together global events of resilience. The project covers—the May Fourth Revolution in Tiananmen Square, China; the Turkish War of Independence in Istanbul, Turkey; the Russian Civil War in kyiv; the creation of the Weimar Republic in Germany; the Chicago race riots in America; the Great Iraqi Revolution in Baghdad; the Third Anglo-Afghan War in Peshawar; the Red Flag Riots in Brisbane, Australia; the Egyptian revolution in Cairo; the Third Battle of Juarez at El Paso; the Irish Declaration of Independence in Dublin – which took place in 1919. Drawing on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s description of a crunch – “the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time, while retaining the ability to function” – I ask viewers to hold together various historical moments and conflicts to search for connections across space and time.

The work is made up of fourteen brass spittoons engraved with the name of a historical event and a map that locates the town and building where the event occurred. While conducting research for “Archives of 1919”, I scoured archives of letters and newspapers to find connections between the events of 1919. As April and May mark the important intertwined anniversaries of the Jallanwallian Bagh massacre and, two years later, in May 1921, Ireland Partition it seems important to revisit “India & Ireland” which was one of the most significant historical texts that connect the two countries.

Although the maps unite the installation “Archives of 1919.” “Le Puits des Martyrs” is the central point. It is a well-like structure in the center of the gallery space using locally sourced old bricks that refer to the Well of the Martyrs. After the Jallanwallian Bagh massacre, hundreds of bodies were found in the well; presumably they had jumped in for protection. Although separated by oceans, this violence in Amritsar pushed de Valera to the point that he called on the world to see the causes of Ireland and India as unified.

Countering British supremacism, de Valera proclaims that the people of Ireland and India are equal as he addresses a global community of supporters in New York in 1920. To honor the anniversary of the Jallanwallian Bagh massacre and independence Irishness and linking these interrelated events, we can see the scale of human lives lost to colonialism. But also, an important and less historicized fact, various colonized peoples formed alliances in order to better fight for freedom.

Learn more about “An archive from 1919”.

About the artist

The large-scale sculptures and site-sensitive installations of sociopolitical feminist artist Pritika Chowdhry reference the body to commemorate unbearable and difficult memories. Within the frameworks of counter-memory, post-memory and postcolonial theory, her work seeks to connect seemingly disparate geopolitical contexts. Since 2007 she has developed her work through the Partition Memorial Project which has research material published on her blog and YouTube channel. In his art, Chowdhry migrates between fibers, latex, paper, clay, glass, metal, wood, poetry and drawing, pursuing the cultural references that the materials provoke. Transnational in scope, its sculptural art installations and anti-memorials testify to partitions of countries, civil and military wars, riots, border violence, genocides and terrorist attacks that provide space for mourning, remembrance and reparation. Chowdhry’s work has been featured in The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, CBS, Fox News, TNS and ABC, and exhibited widely in museums and galleries in North America, Pakistan and India.

Pritika Chowdhry
Counter-memory art
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Thelma J. Longworth