fbpx

Breaking down borders

Two Melbourne artists bring to the forefront their Indian and Pakistani heritage in their exhibition Sarhad, only to find the Indo-Pak ‘line’ dissolves in the Australian diaspora

Reading Time: 4 minutes

On 17 August, 1947, the border between the newly independent states of India and Pakistan was officially created. Drawn up by British lawyer Cyril Radcliffe (hence the name The Radcliffe Line), it was the product of inexperience (Radcliffe had never been to India before), ignorance (he was consulting out of date maps), and indifference to the possible human cost of such a hurried, ill-considered slicing up of an ancient, vast and complex polity.
This turned out, as we know, to be cataclysmic: the largest migration in human history and at least one million lives lost in the bloody conflict that accompanied it.

Panel members Dr. Sandip Dhole, Anindita Banerjee, Dr Zahid Ahmed, Joshinder Kaur Chaggar, Erum Ali, Wardah Alam

That a physical, legal and political border exists between the nation-states of India and Pakistan today is fact. But does it have any other existence? Where does it reappear, and where does it dissolve?
One space that it arguably disintegrates is in the South Asian diaspora. It this ‘third space’ relationship that is explored by contemporary artists Anindita Banerjee and Wardah Alam in their joint exhibition, Sarhad, currently on display at KINGS Artist-Run in Melbourne. In it, Ray and Alam, both immigrant artists, explore the “fragile, transitory and melting” nature of the Indo-Pakistani border in the Australian South Asian diaspora.
The artists have spent 15 months working together, exploring the role contemporary art can play in, as Banerjee phrased it, “dissolving borders and creating connections”.  “We went through a whole process, starting with the question of whether it [the border] exists,” she said.
While recognising the fraught, tangled nature of the relationship between the two nations, the artists offer us works that find and embrace commonalities and confluences. In the video work Instant Jalebi, for example, we see each artist making their favourite sweet from home: the jalebi. But the jalebi is more than just a symbol of shared culture; as Alam explained at a panel discussion of the exhibition, it is also a metaphor for the endless political debates that rage around that connection.
Orange + Green = Brown Single Channel Video, 10:50:23 Floor Installation, Builders Film, Wood, Water Colour Rag, Fabric Dye, Wax The repugnant decision of the squatters created the divide and the devious motives of the subaltern has kept it alive. But the border is fragile, transitory and melting…Is it our sensitivity that is thawing the inherited frigidity…or is it the distance?

They began the project thinking about using performance and prayer rather than the motifs of food, costume and colour that emerged. “But we found we wanted to avoid the religious theme,” Alam said.  Instead, they preferred to use visual metaphors and symbols.
Religion is of course a vexed and bruised issue. As Dr Zahid Shahab Ahmed, research fellow at Deakin University said at the panel, “Religion is central to both countries.” Australia, on the other hand, he said, is “a very individualistic society”. But he also pointed out that Indians and Pakistanis face “common challenges” in Australia: being ‘other’, the outsiders. “We connect better in Australia,” he said.
Instant Jalebi, Single Channel Video,23:42:05
Two girls get together in a suburban home in Melbourne to create their favourite sweet. They grew up buying it off the street vendor just outside their homes… Wait, did we tell you one girl is from India and the other from Pakistan?

Dance artist Joshinder Chaggar brought a unique perspective to the panel as an Indian who migrated to Australia as a child, lived and worked in Karachi, and has now returned to Australia. Working in the arts in Karachi, she said the environment was “always welcoming, always safe”, and Indian and Pakistani artists were always excited to meet and work together. However, while she has “no border in her”, she believes “that for the majority of people [in Australia], the border is real”, particularly in her own Sikh community. This, she believes, is due to generational suspicion, lack of curiosity and lack of exposure to cosmopolitan, multi-faith spaces.
This brings us back to Banerjee and Alam’s project of using art to question and destabilise the very idea and existence of the border here in Australia. And art itself is another space altogether – perhaps even a ‘fourth space’ within the ‘third space’ of diaspora, and a space with its own ethos; in fact, Banerjee and Alam have experienced criticism of their work as being an ‘artificial’ representation of the state of relations between their nations.
What is it that makes us different? The ‘serious staring game’

Nonetheless, Sarhad is a potent embodiment of what it means to reach across a divide, and it comes down to two women and two artists taking that journey together. In my favourite work, the video work What Is It That Make Us Different, the two women, dressed in the grey-beige of army uniforms (Banerjee in a sari, Alam in kameez/salwar), simply sit across from one another and stare. Eventually, though, they can’t keep straight faces, eyes crinkling, mouths twitching into laughter.
Banerjee said this started as a serious exercise, to try and tap into the importance of the issue they were exploring. The ‘serious staring game’, however, failed. “We sat there staring at each other trying to be serious, and we just started laughing…thinking what is the difference between us really?”

- Advertisement -
Aparna Ananthuni
Aparna is an aspiring writer of historical fiction and fantasy for young adults and children. She also loves reading, drawing and Indian classical music, and often develops strange obsessions like typewriter-collecting.

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Podcasts

Ep 9: What do young Indians want from love?

0
  Growing up in Indian culture, most of us know that love has never been as popular as marriage. Even in the movies, the main...

Ep 8: Indian links in Indigenous Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann’s...

0
  To celebrate NAIDOC week 2020 (between 8-15 November) I spoke to Yakunytjatjara poet Ali Cobby Eckermann about her time in India where she taught...

Ep 7: In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput

0
  The torrid and high-octane Sushant Singh Rajput case has been fodder for Indian people and press for the last few months. The actor’s tragic death...
- Advertisement -

Latest News

General Bipin Rawat was working to modernise Indian military

0
After 43 years in service, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat (63) was tasked with making the Indian military modern and capable of...
TiE at Nazaarey wines

TiE Melbourne: developing conscious entrepreneurs

0
  When Prakash Gupta and his wife Seema migrated to Australia in 2000 as skilled professionals, they were in search of job opportunities. They felt...
b'desh art org qagoma

South Asian artists in QAGOMA’s Asia Pacific Triennial

0
  In the 10th edition of QAGOMA's Asia Pacific Triennial (APT10), the exhibition hopes to look to the future of art and the world we...

Saahil Bhargava pays homage to Aussie rock band Karnivool

0
  Fresh off his debut EP released back in August, LA-based singer-songwriter Saahil Bhargava has unveiled what he’s dubbed an “homage” to one of Australia’s...
argyle street parramatta

Police investigate armed robbery at Parramatta jewellery store

0
  NSW Police are appealing for assistance to locate a vehicle following an armed robbery at a jewellery store at Parramatta. At around 2:35 PM on...