Dubai exhibition tackles ‘absence’ of cultural references to partition of British India

Dubai exhibition tackles ‘absence’ of cultural references to partition of British India
Faiza Hasan, ‘Filhaal.’ (Supplied)
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Updated 21 July 2022

Dubai exhibition tackles ‘absence’ of cultural references to partition of British India

Dubai exhibition tackles ‘absence’ of cultural references to partition of British India
  • ‘Proposals for a Monument to Partition’ is running at Dubai’s Jameel Arts Center

DUBAI: “In the aftermath of British colonial rule, a few crucial weeks in 1947 initiated complex and still-unresolved processes of displacement, fragmentation, conflict, and nation-building that spanned decades, and which continue to deeply scar the societies and peoples of the subcontinent.” 

This is how Dubai’s Jameel Arts Center introduces its latest exhibition, “Proposals for a Monument to Partition.” 

It is 75 years since partition divided British India into two independent dominions — India and Pakistan (which was later divided again into Pakistan and Bangladesh) — leaving millions of people displaced along religious lines and creating what is believed to be the biggest refugee crisis ever (mass migration continued for many years afterwards). It also sparked outbreaks of widespread violence that left hundreds of thousands (a conservative estimate) dead on both sides of the newly created border. 

 

 

Little wonder, then, that the show’s curator, the Sharjah-born writer and art historian Murtaza Vali, describes partition as a “foundational trauma” — one which still has a marked influence on events in the Global South.

For Vali, “Proposals for a Memorial to Partition” brings together a number of themes that have occupied his thoughts for many years — including trauma, displacement, nationalism, and the rise of authoritarianism. 

The idea for the show had its seeds in work Vali did for the 10th Sharjah Biennial in 2011, when he was invited to contribute to a project called “A Manual For Treason.” 




Sharjah-born writer and art historian Murtaza Vali is the show curator. (Supplied)

“I was very interested in the dialectical tension between treason and patriotism and how it’s basically the sovereign power of the nation state that decides who’s considered a traitor and who’s considered a patriot,” Vali tells Arab News. “In the South Asian context, nationalism looms large. Nationalism was the movement that helped us gain independence. So nationalism has this very strong anti-colonial bent that also brings with it a liberatory politics. But there were also very important thinkers who were suspicious of nationalism and its ills from the very beginning. 

“Growing up as a South Asian in the UAE, I felt this draw to national identity — because I grew up with this feeling of never being entirely at home where I was — but also a suspicion of it,” he continues. “So, I came up with six essays that were looking at liminal figures who straddled this very fine line between treason and patriotism.” He also invited six artists to contribute work to the book.  “I had to explore a format that made sense in that context and I came up with this idea of soliciting proposals for a memorial to partition,” he explains. 




Nalini Malani, ‘Memory Aid.’ (Supplied)

Partition, Vali says, had been on his mind for a while. His interest in artists dealing with history meant he was aware of “one or two important works … that grappled with the legacy of partition,” but as he dug further, he found that there was also “this kind of absence around the subject, which was especially telling in visual arts and culture. Very few artists in the decades following partition tried to grapple with, or represent, the violence, displacement and trauma that was associated with it.”

“So, I got quite fascinated with this idea of absence,” he continues. “What about this event made it, in some sense, unrepresentable? It’s like with the Holocaust: It’s such a horrific incident that it becomes unrepresentable in contemporary terms."

“So that’s where this idea of coming up with proposals for a memorial to partition came in; to actually ask people to imagine a site, or an event, or a ritual, or an object, that would aid in addressing this absence of acknowledgement of a foundational trauma.”

Aside from the horrors of partition, Vali believes there are other reasons for that ‘absence.’  “It was an event that (went hand-in-hand) with independence,” he says. “So one of my theories is that because the violence — the riots, the murders, the abduction and rape of women — (was carried out) on both sides, it’s hard to identify (a single) culprit. So, everybody moves on and forgets about it. The other thing is that, with independence, there’s a strong push towards nation building and development and modernization, and the uplifting of the poor. And in that optimism, anything that troubles that spirit of nationhood gets swept under the carpet. I was interested in exploring some of that as well.”




Visitors view Bani Abidi's video installations ‘Mangoes’ and ‘Mother’s Lands’ and Nabla Yahya’s ‘Silsila’ cyanotypes. (Supplied)

From those six original proposals, the project has now expanded (and may continue to do so, Vali says he always envisioned it as “an accumulative project”) to include three newly commissioned works and proposals from a dozen other artists. The multitude of proposals (which include the cross-border collection of plant seeds, a syllabus, an audio installation, and more), he explains, is intentional — acknowledging that there can be no one memorial that would suit everyone. And the proposal format allows “a degree of poetic, or Utopian, or surreal thinking; it takes some of the pressure off because the project never has to be realized.”

The results are certainly thought-provoking, often simple — as basic as a t-shirt, say, or Amitava Kumar’s suggestion for giving ‘pairs’ of gifts, with each pair consisting of an item from each country — and often emotive. Faiza Hasan’s moving proposal, for example, combines charcoal drawings of her grandmother’s photographs and bric-a-brac with official documents, including one stating that a requested birth certificate cannot be issued because “the concerned register is not available”; Dubai-based artist Nabla Yahya created “Silsila,” a series of cyanotypes, the centerpiece of which is a photograph of the original document acceding Kashmir. 

“There were a couple of people (from Kashmir) who came up to me,” Vali says, “and were, like, ‘It’s amazing that everything that has happened in the last 75 years, all the violence and the injustice — the document that set it in motion is so banal.’” 




Amitava Kumar, ‘Small Proposals for a Memorial,’ series of four digital drawings. (Supplied)

There is also humor here, most obviously in an installation from Pak Khawateen Painting Club — a collective of Pakistani women artists — which resembles the kind of anonymous government office familiar to so many of us, where time seems to stretch out endlessly while you wait for someone to stamp something: A brown wooden desk, a pot plant, neatly arranged folders; a swivel chair…

“They came back to us with this idea of creating a folder of discourse between different departments in any kind of bureaucratic structure — each of them took on a role in a different department,” Vali explains. “All of the communication is entirely fake — basically an illustration of how post-colonial bureaucratic inertia makes it almost impossible to realize a project like a memorial to partition.”

The variety of approaches on display seems to confirm Vali’s theory that there can be no one memorial to this event. But perhaps the show itself could fulfill that role? It is certainly a powerful attempt. And relevant.

“I think partition is this trauma that repeats cyclically, so a lot of the ongoing problems across South Asia are all traumatic returns of partition,” Vali says. “I hope the show gives people an opportunity to reflect on that and have conversations around this subject.

“I also hope that — in whatever little way — the show brings that spirit of always tempering patriotism with a degree of self-reflection about what it means. It comes back to something that I hold dear, which is that it’s important to be suspicious of nationalism,” he continues. “It is a powerful, powerful rallying cry, and it’s a source of identity and belonging, but it can also very quickly turn dark.”


Amal, George Clooney host inaugural Albie Awards

Amal, George Clooney host inaugural Albie Awards
Updated 01 October 2022

Amal, George Clooney host inaugural Albie Awards

Amal, George Clooney host inaugural Albie Awards

DUBAI: Lebanese human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and her actor husband George Clooney this week hosted the first-ever Albie Awards, an event created by the celebrity couple to honor individuals who, at great personal risk, have devoted their lives to justice.

The awards ceremony, which took place in New York City, is named after South African lawyer, activist, writer and former judge Justice Albie Sachs, who spent much of his life “defending people charged under racist statutes and repressive security laws.”

Amal was spotted on the red carpet wearing a silver and gold beaded Atelier Versace column gown and strappy silver Aquazzura sandals, while George wore a black tuxedo. (AFP)

Amal was spotted on the red carpet wearing a silver and gold beaded Atelier Versace column gown and strappy silver Aquazzura sandals, while George wore a black tuxedo.

The event was attended by A-list celebrities including Oscar Isaac, Dua Lipa, John Oliver, Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Ethan Hawke and Meryl Streep.


New Lonely Planet guide shines a light on Britain’s hidden Muslim heritage

New Lonely Planet guide shines a light on Britain’s hidden Muslim heritage
Updated 01 October 2022

New Lonely Planet guide shines a light on Britain’s hidden Muslim heritage

New Lonely Planet guide shines a light on Britain’s hidden Muslim heritage
  • ‘Experience Great Britain’ is part of publisher’s range of ‘anti-guidebooks’
  • It offers ‘really diverse experiences for visitors,’ contributor Tharik Hussain says

LONDON: A new Lonely Planet guide to Great Britain features an entire chapter on the country’s little-known Islamic heritage, which stretches back more than 1,200 years.

Published this month, “Experience Great Britain” is part of the publisher’s range of “anti-guidebooks,” so-called because of the unique local perspectives they offer travelers.

The guide to Britain has sections and essays titled “Legacies of Empire,” “Bristol’s Black History,” “An Other London” and “Hidden Muslim Britain,” all of which seek to shine a light on the nation’s marginalized cultures and their stories.

Tharik Hussain, the Muslim author of “Minarets in the Mountains: A Journey Into Muslim Europe,” which explores the continent’s indigenous Muslim cultures, contributed to the new travel guide.

 

 

“I think it is wonderful to see mainstream guidebooks like this finally going out of their way to include such really diverse experiences for visitors,” he said.

“So often, writers like me are brought onto such projects to tick a box and create the impression there are diverse perspectives in it, but actually we’re often asked to just write about the same things covered by the previous writers. What’s diverse about that?

“To achieve truly diverse perspectives commissioning editors must select writers from different backgrounds and then be brave and empower writers to come back with what they find interesting, even if that goes against the editor’s expectations.”

Hussain, who developed one of the UK’s first Muslim heritage trails, wrote the “Hidden Muslim Britain” chapter, which focuses on Woking — home to the UK’s first purpose-built mosque, the Shah Jahan — Liverpool and Brighton, where some of the country’s most visible Islamic legacies can be found.

These include Britain’s first Muslim cemetery — the final resting place of convert lords, ladies and Muslim royalty — and Brighton Pavilion, where injured Muslim (as well as Sikh and Hindu) soldiers fighting for Britain in World War I were treated.

The guide also tells of cultural institutes set up by the Turkish, Palestinian, Bangladeshi and Black communities in London. (Supplied/Tharik Hussain)

“The guide also reveals where to visit spectacular ‘oriental rooms’ modeled on famous Muslim palaces like the Alhambra in Spain and the Topkapi in Turkey,” Hussain said.

“This is supported by an essay called Anglo Islam that reveals how Islam came to the island as early as the 8th century, when an Anglo-Saxon king called Offa minted a gold coin featuring part of the Muslim declaration of faith in Arabic.”

The essay also tells of how Britain’s first real Muslim community “were a group of white, convert Victorians who worshipped at the country’s first mosque in Liverpool, founded by a solicitor called Henry William Quilliam, later Abdullah Quilliam,” he added.

The section on empire tells visitors where they can go to learn about “the horrors of British imperial rule,” and how to experience more positive post-colonial legacies like the stunning Neasden Temple in northwest London, built by immigrants who moved to Britain after the collapse of the empire, Hussain said.

The guide also tells of the cultural institutes set up by the Turkish, Palestinian, Bangladeshi and Black communities in London, like the Black Cultural Archives in Brixton, and offers alternatives to the usual tourist attractions, such as the Muslim History Tours and the Open City walking tours that explore London’s forgotten Chinese heritage.


Dance group Mayyas to perform in Beirut after ‘America’s Got Talent’ win

Dance group Mayyas to perform in Beirut after ‘America’s Got Talent’ win
Updated 30 September 2022

Dance group Mayyas to perform in Beirut after ‘America’s Got Talent’ win

Dance group Mayyas to perform in Beirut after ‘America’s Got Talent’ win
  • Crew ecstatic over ‘dream’ prize, says choreographer Nadim Cherfan
  • Artists will showcase their gifts at the US embassy this weekend

DUBAI: Lebanese dance crew Mayyas are set to perform for the first time since winning “America’s Got Talent” at the US embassy in Beirut this weekend.

The embassy will also host a virtual meet-the-artist session which will be released on Oct. 1 on YouTube.

“I am very happy that Mayyas will do a collaboration with the US embassy,” the crew’s choreographer Nadim Cherfan said in a video shared on the embassy’s Twitter page.

Earlier this month, the group took home the $1 million grand prize after winning the show.

“We can’t believe what’s happening,” group member Marcel Assal told Arab News after the show. “We can’t believe what we’ve achieved — giving so much energy, leaving our work and education, dedicating our time to training every day to be here to represent our country, and this is what we were looking for.

“We were very stressed out by the fact that we had to (prepare the dance) in two to three days, but when we went up on stage and heard the cheers, the audience gave us a push and an adrenaline rush that wasn’t there and we did it,” added Assal.

Cherfan said: “This win gave me an opportunity to dream again. When you have a dream and you achieve it, you start to look for another dream. So I’m very happy that there is something to look forward to now — something to dream of, something to fight for.”


Arab models Gigi, Bella Hadid grace the runway for French label Isabel Marant in Paris 

Arab models Gigi, Bella Hadid grace the runway for French label Isabel Marant in Paris 
Updated 01 October 2022

Arab models Gigi, Bella Hadid grace the runway for French label Isabel Marant in Paris 

Arab models Gigi, Bella Hadid grace the runway for French label Isabel Marant in Paris 

DUBAI: Dutch Palestinian models Gigi and Bella Hadid have had a fashion-packed month, from Milan to Paris Fashion Week. 

This week, the sisters modeled for Isabel Marant wearing the French label’s spring-summer 2023 collection.  

Gigi strutted down the runway in an oversized cameo-print jacket in neutral hues. 

Bella wore two outfits. The first featured a white cut-out top embellished with silver studs, white pants, stilettos and a handbag.

The second look was a black flowy mini dress with cut-out detailing across the chest, which the model styled with a tasseled bag casually slung on her shoulder. 

The fashion show featured an array of unique outfits — including sheer tops, oversized jumpers, floral dresses, jeans and crochet items — which British Moroccan model Nora Attal championed. 

Attal wore a yacht-perfect crochet bodysuit and a matching bag with fringe detailing.

French Algerian catwalk star Loli Bahia was also part of the star-studded show.

Bella wore a white cut-out top embellished with silver studs, white pants, stilettos and a handbag. (AFP)

She put on an eye-catching display in an outfit similar to Bella’s all-white look, sporting leather trousers and a cut-out red top.

Bahia also wore reflective silver pants with a white chiffon top featuring a sleeveless neckline. 

The part-Arab models all opted for loose hair with natural make-up looks in a bronze pallet. 

Another star-studded event at Paris Fashion Week was French jewelry label Messika’s show, which was inspired by ancient Egypt.

Bahia wore leather trousers and a cut-out red top. (AFP)

Supermodel Naomi Campbell opened the runway on Thursday wearing the new Akh-Ba-Ka set, which was designed by Valérie Messika and is part of the brand’s new jewelry collection titled “Beyond the Light.”

The necklace, which Italian Moroccan model Malika El-Maslouhi wore in the campaign images, is made of white gold with 15 diamonds totaling 71 carats. The entire set is composed of a pair of asymmetrical earrings and a transformable ring that can be worn in three different ways.

Among the guests who watched the show were Gigi, Lebanese singer Maya Diab, Saudi TV presenter Lojain Omran, Egyptian actresses Mai Omar and Enjy Kiwan and Lebanese presenter Diala Makki.


Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai questions lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood

Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai questions lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood
Updated 01 October 2022

Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai questions lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood

Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai questions lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood

DUBAI: Pakistani activist and Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai addressed the lack of Muslim representation in Hollywood films during Variety’s recent Power of Women event in the US.

Yousafzai, who was honored at the event, said: “I’ve been doing activism for more than a decade now, and I’ve realized that we shouldn’t limit activism to the work of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) only: There’s also the element of changing people’s minds and perspectives — and that requires a bit more work.”

The 25-year-old, in her new role as a content producer, pointed out that despite Muslims making up 25 percent of the population, there was “only 1 percent of characters in popular TV series.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Malala (@malala)

Addressing A-list guests including American politician Hillary Clinton and her daughter Chelsea, US actress Elizabeth Olsen, talk show host Oprah Winfrey, and the American former actress, and wife of British Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, she added: “You’re often told in Hollywood, implicitly or explicitly, that the characters are too young, too brown, or too Muslim, or that if one show about a person of color is made, then that’s it — you don’t need to make another one. That needs to change.

“I’m a woman, a Muslim, a Pashtun, a Pakistani, and a person of color. And I watched ‘Succession,’ ‘Ted Lasso,’ and ‘Severance,’ where the leads are white people — and especially a lot of white men.

“If we can watch those shows, then I think audiences should be able to watch shows that are made by people of color, and produced and directed by people of color, with people of color in the lead. That is possible, and I’m going to make it happen,” Yousafzai said.