Visuals jump before one’s eyes on the screen: from a woman who washes her feet decorated with beautiful henna patterns to a car driving through a forested land; curtains swing in the wind as they are reflected in a round mirror on a stand, while a person stands motionless on the beach. Meanwhile, the voice-over tells viewers of the loss faced during Partition, of the passage of time and of the emotional distress faced as a result of socio-political discord that come with the partition of a country.
One is viewing a digital video of ‘The Inaccessible Narrative’, a short film made by artist Bindu Mehra, where she traces the painful lived memories. Mehra’s art practice explores the impact of British colonialism and post-Partition decoloniality on Indian women’s voices, and how they have instituted new forms of silence. She mobilises an archive of film, historical and theoretical elements through inter-related practices of filmmaking, writing and performance lectures.
Mehra is currently pursuing a practice-led PhD at The Slade School of Fine Art, University College London. Mehra received her Master of Fine Arts degree (2018) from Goldsmith’s University, London, and is a recipient of the prestigious Research Excellence Fellowship (2023) from UCL, as well as numerous international grants and residencies.
Discussing her art practice, she explains, “I examine how the medium of video installation can be engaged to present individual and collective memories of traumatic events. In my practice, editing is foregrounded as the method of creating meaning in video production. I combine poetry, oral histories, fiction, archival and found footage to reconstruct feminine narratives dealing with unfolding memory, trauma, silence and complicity.” Continuing on the lineage/legacy of Nalini Malani, renowned for her dynamic, affective, immersive video installations confronting gender violence, Mehra’s video essays traverse through mythology, autobiography, history and literature to meticulously unravel historical silencing and gender-based violence pertaining to the Indian sub-continent.
‘Amnesia’ represents another of Mehra’s short films delving into the theme of Partition. She skilfully weaves together fragments of an interview she conducted with her father, Kailash Mehra. Born in Peshawar, among the vibrant Pathan community, Kailash recounts his family’s migration journey to India. The film masterfully juxtaposes his recollections with archival footage and portrays the heart-wrenching exodus of ‘exiles’, families departing their homeland in caravans. The family left by ship to Okha port and then boarded a train to Jamnagar in Gujarat. They were displaced from their residence in Karachi, and tragically, their cherished governess ‘Dai-maa’ perished in a fire amidst the riots. This video leaves behind a poignant feeling of sorrow, while also shedding light on the Partition narratives that have fallen through the cracks of history.
Mehra uses distancing/alienation effect within her videos to prevent the audience from getting lost within her fragmented, non-linear narrative. It is by creating a distance between the viewer and the video that she brings about a sense of criticality, achieved through interrupting the narrative or drawing attention to the filmmaking process as in the sound of flipping the paper or clearing of her throat.
Oral histories have afforded her a notably accurate depiction of women’s experiences both pre and post-Partition, complemented by scholarly writings, literary works, official documents, photographs, audio/video archives, maps and other historical artefacts. Eyewitness testimonies offer us an alternative vantage point, exemplified by the narratives recounted by her aunt, Prem Kapoor, in the video titled ‘The Well’. By conducting interviews with her family members, Mehra manages to gather information that grants us insight into intricate social, cultural, political and economic subtleties. Without these records, such nuances would have faded into obscurity over time. Kapoor’s testimony of Partition, recorded in 2015, finally took the shape of a film in 2021, drawing one to stories of women’s strength and resilience.
Speaking about her research, Bindu explains, “I have been reading and researching on Partition for the last seven years. It has been an emotionally challenging experience for me. I find myself sitting in front of the computer unable to find appropriate words to write about the physiological and psychological impact of Partition on my family. I remember my father, who lived between the space of remembering and forgetting. In my attempt to save my father, I was trying to save me… I can’t breathe, breath was the life force that connected you and me and in the absence of your breath, where is me?”
Most Read In 24 Hours
Don't MissView All
The explosion takes place when people were gathering to mark...
High Court allows anticipatory bail to Sukhbir Badal, Sumedh Saini, Paramraj Umaranangal in Kotkapura, Behbal Kalan firing cases
Pronouncing the order, Justice Anoop Chitkara rules it is no...
Suggests introducing guided judicial discretion in the matte...
Vishal levels the allegation of corruption in a post on micr...
Air India passenger suffers serious burns after crew accidentally spills ‘coffee’; airline apologises
Was onboard a flight from the national capital to San Franci...