Memorial to Lost Words: A conversation with Bani Abidi (artist) and Amarjeet Chandan (poet)

Monday, February 12, 2018 - 5am

The Dean’s Office, Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani School of Humanities and Social Sciences (MGSHSS) is organising a session

Memorial to Lost Words: A Conversation with Bani Abidi (Artist) and Amarjeet Chandan (Poet)

Moderated by: Dr. Ali Raza

At times, the desire to remember surfaces after periods of collective forgetting, a period of cultural amnesia. How does one recover memories of ordinary folk and takes them seriously as history, perhaps in contradistinction to the national history that always has an intrinsic element of forgetfulness? To be sure, the recollection and constructiveness of this attempt to remember and recuperate always remains partial and are mere attempts to put together a past that may be only available in small fragments. It is akin to, as the historian Joan Scott reminds us, an archaeological reconstruction of a pot from shards and pieces found in a dig, it remains fragmentary.

Within this context, the panel will invoke the memory of more than a million Indian soldiers who served in the Great war, but are remembered, if ever, only for their valour and loyalty to the crown. Seventy-Thousand Indian men died in the war and didn't even make it as a footnote in the Imperial War Museum's World War One Exhibit.

Bani Abidi will share her creative work based on this history along with Amarjit Chandan’s rendition of poetry based on censored letters written by the soldiers and Punjabi folksongs sung by women at the time. These words of loss, longing and displacement will be sung by Ali Aftab, Zainab Jawwad, Saleema Jawwad and Ismet Jawwad.

About Bani Abidi
Bani Abidi is a Pakistani contemporary artist who lives in Berlin and Karachi. She has held numerous exhibitions. Her work focuses on political issues in the colonial and post-colonial South Asian contexts. After her graduation from the National College of Arts, Lahore, in 1994, she did her MA at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1999. She completed residencies with the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Maine (2000), Fukuoka Art Exchange Program, Japan (2005), and DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program (2011–12). Her early engagement with video, beginning at the Art Institute, led to the incorporation of performance and photography into her work. These mediums have provided Abidi with potent, sometimes subversive means to address problems of nationalism, specifically those surrounding the Indian-Pakistani conflict and the violent legacy of the 1947 partition dividing the two countries and their uneven representation in the mass media. She is particularly interested in how these issues affect everyday life as well as individual experiences. With a distinct sense of irony and satire, she has produced artworks exploring private and public spaces through a complex critique of the social and the political. She has showcased her work at as many as 80 shows worldwide, more recently at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (2017), Kunsthas Hamburg (2016), Gandhara Art Space, Karachi (2016), Experimenter Gallery, Kolkata (2016), Dallas Contemporary, Dallas (2015), Kunstverein Arnsberg, Germany (2014), and DOCUMENTA-13 (2012). The Guggenheim has acquired three works by Abidi: The Boy Who Got Tired of Posing (2006), The Ghost of Mohammed Bin Qasim (2006), and This Video Is a Reenactment (2006).

About Amarjeet Chandan
Amarjeet Chandan is a noted Punjabi poet and essayist. Born in Nairobi, he graduated from Punjab University, Chandigarh. As a result of his active involvement in the Maoist Naxalite movement in his youth, he was imprisoned and spent two years in solitary confinement. Later he worked for various Punjabi literary and political magazines, including the Mumbai-based Economic and Political Weekly, before migrating to England in 1980. He lives in London.

He is the author of numerous collections of poetry and books of essays in Punjabi (in the Gurmukhi and the Persian script) and books of poetry in English translation. Chandan has edited many anthologies of world poetry and fiction, including two collections of “British Punjabi” poetry and short fiction. An active translator, he has translated works by Brecht, Neruda, Ritsos, Hikmet and Cardenal, among others, into Punjabi. Chandan’s poetry does not invoke the theme of place with any easy sentimentalism. Nakoda, his home town in the Punjab, recurs in his selected poems with an insistent longing. There is a particularly vibrant memory of the entire village sharing a collective dream as it congregates to watch a silent film in the year 1930. But the memories of home are more layered than they may initially seem. The sight of a billboard advertising lasan or garlic in a distant country appears to arouse a simple nostalgia, but the poet is also aware of the aching cargo of loss the word evokes for the women farm labourers of California. And for all the memories of childhood and adolescence - his mother’s laughter, the clang of the village school-bell - there is also the unforgettable sound of prison gates. In recognition of his contribution to contemporary Punjabi letters, he was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the Indian Punjab Government in December 2004, and yet another lifetime achievement award by the Punjabi community in Britain in 2006. He was among the British poets on Radio 3 selected by Andrew Motion on National Poetry Day in 2001.