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Victoria Memorial to host exhibition on Jallianwala Bagh

Victoria Memorial Hall of Kolkata.

Victoria Memorial Hall of Kolkata.  

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It was only a couple of years after the massacre that Victoria Memorial was opened to the public in 1921 and this is the first time that the hall is holding some event around the killings.

Victoria Memorial Hall, a symbol of the grandeur of the colonial era, will for the first time host an exhibition on what is considered the worst blot on the British Empire, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919.

The installation exhibition titled, ‘Ways of Remembering Jallianwala Bagh & Rabindranath Tagore’s Response to the Massacre’ is unique not only because it links Punjab and Bengal almost 100 years after the killings but because of the venue hosting it. It was only a couple of years after the massacre that Victoria Memorial was opened to the public in 1921 and this is the first time that the hall is holding some event around the killings.

“It was a conscious choice to approach the Victoria Memorial Hall and we are happy that they agreed,” Sarmistha Dutta Gupta, a Kolkata based scholar and writer who is curating the exhibition, told The Hindu. “The VMH and Ministry of Culture are providing full support for putting up the installation,” she added.

Ms. Dutta Gupta said that the exhibition was not about providing information to people as to what happened on April 13, 1919, but to place it in context. “There is something called the politics of memory. This installation is to question our forgetfulness around many significant facets of this episode in our history,” she remarked.

In Bengal, the response to the massacre was not limited to a letter by Tagore to Viceroy Chelmsford on May 31, 1919, giving up his knighthood. Tagore engaged with the atrocities in Punjab in a major way in 1919-20 till the matter was discussed in the British Parliament. His letters with C.F. Andrews and other public figures and various other kinds of archival documents have been used in the installation.

Ms. Dutta Gupta is collaborating with Sanchayan Ghosh, who teaches at Kala Bhawan Santiniketan, for the artistic direction of the installation and both of them travelled to Punjab to trace local memories around the massacre.

“We are using oral narratives recorded in the form of videos of families who were directly affected by the massacre,” she said. “We have also explored parts of the city of Amritsar that faced brutally racist martial law orders like the Crawling Order and traced the changing meanings of the Jallianwala Bagh site for local people,” she added.

Jayanta Sengupta, the secretary and curator of VMH, said that the museum was amenable to any kind of interpretations and looking forward to the exhibition.

“Museums across the world are using their space creatively,” observed Mr. Sengupta. “For Victoria Memorial Hall, with all the symbolism around it of being a museum of the Empire, we are looking forward to the exhibition,” he said.

Underlining the fact that Victoria Memorial was created to showcase the best of the empire, while the exhibition is on the greatest act of colonial violence, the VMH curator, however, clarified that the endeavour “is not an attempt to send out any political message”.

Also, Mr. Sengupta is looking forward to the fact that this exhibition, unlike most others held in its galleries, would provide a three-dimensional experience to the audience.

The exhibition would be an “ immersive installation” providing a multisensory experience to the visitors through video and audio tools, Mr. Ghosh said, elaborating that there would be a soundscape with poems by Subhadhra Kumari Chauhan, Nanak Singh and other poets and readings from fiction by Saadat Hasan Manto, Krishan Chunder and others.

Besides photographs and archival material, the exhibition would also record how newspapers and periodicals in Bengal, both in English and Bengali, responded to the massacre.

The exhibition, scheduled for later this year, will be held for almost six weeks at the VMH and the creators are keen to take it to Viswa Bharati University and also to Amritsar in Punjab.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 3:11:50 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/victoria-memorial-to-host-exhibition-on-jallianwala-bagh/article30009291.ece

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