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Eivor and Alston Callahan Lecture: India’s Post-Partition Identity and the Cinematic Image

March 5, 2016 @ 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm

Image from Time.com, Best of Bollywood
Image from the film “Awara” (Time.com, Best of Bollywood)

In August 1947, the Independence that India and Pakistan claimed was accompanied by a Partition of the Indian subcontinent, a geographic division that brought large-scale ethnic violence and mass migrations. Over a period of many months (and in the case of partitioned Bengal, years), at least fourteen million people—Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims—fled their homes and homelands, crossing over the newly created borders to become refugees. At least one million were killed in ethnically-charged riots and pogroms, and women by the tens of thousands (possibly more) were raped or abducted. This overwhelming tragic saga of religious conflicts, nationalist mobilizations, and plight of refugees came to constitute a critical aspect of politics and social life in independent India and informed popular culture in various ways. Yet, for several decades after, mourning and even memory of the events of 1947 and 1948 was suppressed. The trauma as well as the loss of “what might have been” was consciously and conspicuously ignored in most forms of public culture.

Coincidentally, the the years following Independence and Partition are regarded as the “Golden Age” of Indian cinema, and in these years the self-image of a new nation began to be narrated through film. This talk, given by Cathleen Cummings, Ph.D., will look at cinematic images of the 1950s and early 1960s and consider how Indian identity was being reformulated and articulated in the national cinema. Dr. Cummings will also consider ways in which the cinematic image helped mourn the nation’s collective trauma in indirect ways, and how the twin demands of forgetting and remembrance of Partition were negotiated, drawing from such films as Awara (Raj Kapoor, 1951), Pyaasa (Guru Dutt, 1957), and other classics of the era.

CathyVirupaksa1 copyDr. Cummings is an Associate Professor of Art History at The University of Alabama at Birmingham. She is a specialist in South Asian art, particularly in the areas of Hindu temple architecture and Indian miniature painting. She received her doctorate in art history from The Ohio State University, specializing in the art of South Asia, with minors in Islamic and Himalayan Buddhist art. Her book, Decoding A Hindu Temple: Royalty and Religion in the Iconographic Program of the Virupaksha Temple, Pattadakal, was published in 2014 by the South Asian Studies Association. She has also published on Buddhist paintings of Tibet and Nepal, early modern painting in India, and Hindu architecture associated with death and cremation. She has curated exhibitions for the Peabody-Essex Museum in Massachusetts as well as for the Birmingham Museum of Art and for UAB’s AEIVA galleries.

A reception will immediately follow the lecture.