top of page
Image by 🇸🇮 Janko Ferlič

Your History gets in the way of my Memory


*Cover image courtesy: Nalini Malani, The Rebellion of the Dead, 2017. Sourced from:,_The_Rebellion_of_the_Dead,_2017.jpg

A video recording of the session and the PPT used therein are available on request. Please write to us at for the same.


In the fourth and final session of the Beyond the Textbook series, Medhavi Gandhi shows us ways in which some contemporary artists have chosen to deal with the subject of the 1947 Partition in their art. Every work depicts an artistic choice by its artist, whether it is which narrative of the Partition they have decided to highlight or the form (medium and materials, artistic style) they have picked to do this. These choices and decisions are usually shaped by varying subjective impressions of the Partition and its impacts, traceable to different sources—recollection of what one has lived through, re-membering (piecing together again)of what others have transmitted of their experiences, recognizing a loss that is felt but not memorialized.

Medhavi’s objectives for this session centred around enabling students to develop the skills to

i) look at art as primary and secondary sources when studying about the Partition;

ii) understand how artists can use multiple sources in their research towards moulding a piece of visual art or designing an installation;

iii) address contending and multiple views in their study of the Partition.

This post draws from all of the above and offers the teacher a few fleshed-out routes that this session’s contents could take into the classroom. This segment, like segment 3, can be particularly fruitful if done following the Partition chapter in Class 12 for high school CBSE teachers (click here:

When we show art to our students, we are also asking them to look at these kinds of primary sources and narratives, to look deeper into the artist’s biography, story, any statement they have made on what they have made, the title of the artwork and most importantly the medium. For contemporary artists especially, medium is very important in conveying the artist’s message, so as we look at different artworks, one has to enable students to look deeper into the materials used as well. - Medhavi

Note for the teacher

Here are some suggestions that highlight an interdisciplinary approach to teaching:

1. Zarina Hashmi’s Dividing Line and Atlas of My World series / Arpita Singh’s Leaping Bridge

Linking the '47 Partition to Geography or Environmental Education:

—students could perhaps plot a pre-1947 map of the subcontinent marking areas rich in natural resources, industries dependent on these resources and even regions rich in certain cultural traditions, say, and then try to understand the impact of the Radcliffe line on the same.

Discussing the ’47 Partition in History and Literature classrooms:

Have students study the artworks and gently lead them in the direction of reading and discussing literature such as Manto’s ‘Toba Tek Singh’, where madness becomes the only acceptable route to address trauma that forcibly renders a space imagined.

Discuss imaginations of space and borders/limits using Shilpa Gupta’s ongoing 100 hand drawn maps of my country art project (

2. Nalini Malani’s Lahu ka Surag and Anita Dubey’s Memorial

Alongside the segment ‘Gendering Partition’ in the class 12 NCERT chapter, ‘Understanding

Partition’, artworks/pieces such as Nalini Malani’s Lahu ka Surag and Anita Dubey’s Memorial could be uncovered. This could be further complemented with encouraging students to read texts such as Urvashi Butalia’s The Other Side of Silence/ listen to oral history audio recordings of women who experienced the Partition or even to read fiction by women authors based on realities of the time (Amrita Pritam’s ‘Pinjar’ to name a famous example). Students could also be asked to reflection the portrayal of women in art based on the Partition (look at session 3 resource also), gendered differences in narratives and ways of narrativizing when attempting to read works (whether literature or art or film) on the Event.

Click on the button below to view a selection from the many artworks woven into session 4. You could use any combination of artworks depending on what narratives and aspects of the 1947 Partition you would like to highlight in your teaching.



Each artwork is distributed individually among students so that 3 to 5 students (depending on the total numbers) receive the same artwork image.

I. Carefully view the artwork and its accompanying details. Now fill in the ‘What do you see?’ question card for each artwork:

I noticed . . .

I wonder . . .

I was reminded of . . .

I think . . .

I’m surprised that . . .

I’d like to know . . .

II. Groups are made with all the students who were assigned the same artwork. Students exchange/share with each other their responses in the ‘What do you see?’ card. They together do the below activity:

At this point, share the Context Cards.

III. Now that you have shared the respective context cards with each group, students study the given context cards, look up suggested links and do their own research depending on time available.

a)At this point, if there is limited time, students in each group collate a collective response and share what the artwork has added to or altered in their understanding of what they have studied about the Partition. Have they got any glimpses into it they didn’t before? Do they think of the Partition any differently than they did?

b) If paucity of time is not a factor, continue this into Project Idea 1.

IV. Experimental or avant garde art, while fascinating, can be quite difficult to ‘read’. Sometimes the artist can choose to emphasise what impressions the artwork makes rather than its ‘meaning’. Medhavi mentions that the material used by contemporary artists often plays a very significant role in what the work tries to depict, and is as much a part of the artwork as the form itself. Here is one way of furthering students’ engagement with some such contemporary art pieces and through that locate the work in their learnings about the Partition:

  1. Make groups of students as per numbers. Give each group of students an enlarged image of one work (Chachhi’s Temporal Twist, Gupta’s There is no border here, or Dube’s Memorial, for instance), along with title, materials used and artist name.

  2. Each group then attempts to describe their artwork/installation to the rest, without use of the image, perhaps using a mind map with keywords and phrases.

  3. Now, share the context cards of their respective artworks with them. Once they have studied the contents, would they change anything about their descriptions? What did students find different/unique in how the artist chose to depict/represent their perspective on Partition?



I. (Continued from Activity III.) Each group picks one of the following (teacher could do a fun lottery).

i) Partition chapter in NCERT textbook

(click here:

ii) Oral history accounts

iii) Films based on the 1947 Partition

iv) Literature (prose/poetry) based on the Partition*

v) Another historical event (could be from the subcontinent or anywhere in the world) or an event someone you know experienced

Task: Students have to relate their group’s artwork to one example from the category they were assigned/got in the lottery and substantiate with reasons for their interpretation/analysis. How do 1) the artist and 2) the i)textbook authors/ ii)interviewees/ iii)film maker/ iv)author/poet approach the topic of Partition? What is their depiction of the Partition/its impacts based on? For instance, did they personally experience it, did they recall the stories they heard about it, did they research official documents, personal letters, etc.—what source did they develop their ideas and work from?

II. Students dig up names of contemporary artists (any medium - film, photography, music, etc.) who have engaged with the partitions of the subcontinent in their work. They could then draw links—common features, points of differences, in the ways in which the partitions have been addressed/depicted in the works they find in their research, and the artworks they were assigned.


Some useful resources for the entire Beyond The Textbook resource series:

(Click on ‘Explore’ and pick the object/s of your choice)

57 views0 comments


bottom of page