Exhibition: Never Set Eyes on the Land

An exhibition that explores the 1947 partition of India and the following migration that occurred has opened.

The partition – in which the British Empire split India to form neighbouring country Pakistan – was the largest mass migration in history and is the subject of Never Set Eyes on the Land, now showing at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery in Greenwich. Lead artist and director, Ajay Chhabra – best known for his TV acting roles – said his family were forced from their home city of Sargodha, where his ancestors had lived for more than 500 years, forcing them to leave with nothing.

Ajay said: “Partition saw 14 million Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians forced from their homes. My family had cotton mills but crossed the border with only the clothes they wore.

“My dad came to London and made his home in Plumstead, where I now live with my family.

This show has toured nationwide but the link to Greenwich is so relevant and special to me. People want to know about history – good and bad – so it’s important to keep this story going while there are still people around who lived through it.

“One side of the exhibition is set up like a 1947 Indian kitchen, just before a family was forced out. “It is eerie, a space that was loved but has now changed forever.

“The other side is more reflective, set out like a library. The work is interactive and people can write what they would take if they had to flee, for example.”

Ajay has teamed up with Greenwich history lecturer Dr Gavin Rand, partition survivors, community groups, schools, heritage volunteers and artists to create the installation.

The show includes photographs by renowned Time magazine photographer Margaret Bourke-White and uses sounds recorded at the time and old Pathe news footage.

The exhibition takes its name from a line in WH Auden’s poem, Partition, written 20 years after the subcontinent was divided along borders drawn up by a British barrister.


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