On view until April 1, "Lines of Control: Partition as Productive Space" is one of the largest and most technically complex exhibits ever presented at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, said Ellen Avril, chief curator and curator of Asian art, at a panel discussion at the museum March 3, as part of a March 3-4 symposium.
The exhibit, co-curated by Avril, London-based curator Hammad Nasar and Iftikhar Dadi, chair of the Department of Art and associate professor of the history of art, features more than 40 works of videos, prints, photographs, paintings, sculptures and installation by 33 international artists and groups that "grapple with issues that arise when territories are divided and orders are drawn to create new nations. At its core, the exhibit investigates the historic upheaval of the 1947 partition of India that created the nations of Pakistan and Bangladesh," Avril said.
"Lines of Control" is an ongoing project initiated in 2005 by Green Cardamom, a London-based nonprofit arts organization. "This project started out of a realization that the impact of partition on the world is perhaps not well understood. It's cast a very small shadow on the world's collective memory," Nasar said. "But the numbers are actually mind-boggling. Over a few weeks in 1947, between 10 and 15 million people were displaced, the largest mass movement in history. Between 1 and 3 million people died. In 1971, during the formation of Bangladesh, between 8 to 10 million people were displaced. So collectively, we're looking at the largest movement of humanity that has been documented, and the number of people dead is just slightly shy of the Jewish Holocaust."
"For me these issues of partition are also personal since my parents are migrants who in 1947 moved from India to what is now Pakistan," Dadi said.
"Lines of Control" also addresses other partitioned areas -- North and South Korea, Sudan and South Sudan, Israel and Palestine, Ireland and Northern Ireland, Armenia and its diaspora -- as well as questions of indigenous sovereignty in the United States, Avril said.
Jolene Rickard, director of Cornell's American Indian Program and associate professor of history of art, noted, "It is the realization that recognition of indigenous peoples in the Americas establishes an ethical entry point to a discussion about borders in the world today."
"'Lines of Control,'" Nasar said, "has become an open-ended inquiry to understanding who we are and where we are, from moving from the partition of India to partitions in general, moving from the historical perspective to really understanding the contemporary through the lens of history."
More than 120 people attended the symposium, including many New York-based artists, critics and curators who traveled to Ithaca for the weekend to participate. It opened with Nasar's keynote conversation with artist Amar Kanwar on his films, which also are part of the exhibit.
"Lines of Control" is being studied by students in not only art, history, religion and Asian studies classes at Cornell, but also the Department of Natural Resources and in the first-year writing program, said Stephanie Wiles, the Richard J. Schwartz Director of the Johnson Museum.
"This is the perfect kind of show for university museums," Wiles said. "It's visually tough. It takes concentration and a real willingness to think about the role of history and politics in the day-to-day lives of so many different people. It asks our audience to cross disciplinary and geographic boundaries in agile, open-minded ways."
Dorothy Chan '12 is a writer intern for the Cornell Chronicle.