Aanchal Malhotra, an artist turned writer, visited IIAD’s campus and shared her experience on her recently published book, Remnants of a Separation: A History of the Partition through Material Memory. The book traces tragic chronicles of the India-Pakistan Partition (1947) through material memory. Here, the partition is not just a memory but a museum of recollection sparked off by the material objects refugees carried across the border. Being introduced to the mundane items and the stories attached to them made Aanchal realize the significance of objects in retaining memories. She explained the importance of objects that become a catalyst for memory and how the texture, surface and even the scent of an object preserved invokes memories of the past.
She further went on to describe unique stories and testimonies of people she acquainted during her research. Some of the most mesmerizing stories she narrated involved a string of pearls gifted by a Maharaja to a damsel he was smitten by (the pearls were later carried from Dalhousie to Lahore), a notebook of poems brought from Lahore to Kalyan, a refugee certificate issued in Calcutta that was accidentally discovered by a daughter; the list is endless. The memories of partition are often recalled as the darker side of independence but, Aanchal found an interesting way to unravel memories from the mass exodus by using myriad objects the owners possessed from the time. The session was quite intriguing and the spectators bought signed copies of the book post the event.
The purpose of hosting Aanchal Malhotra on campus was to familiarise our budding designers with the aspect of objects having the capability of absorbing memory of a certain time and space and retaining it for life. The session also gave students a platform to share their experiences of conducting primary research during the various projects they have undertaken as part of their design education at IIAD. Also, Hatchette Books India had put up a stall in the premises with copies of the book on sale at a discounted price. Staff and students alike thronged the stall and got their personal copies autographed by Aanchal Malhotra.
About Aanchal Malhotra
Aanchal Malhotra is an oral historian and a multidisciplinary artist with a keen interest in archiving the past through material memory. Born into a family of booksellers naturally inclined her towards the written word. She received a BFA degree in Art History from OCAD University, Toronto and bagged the prestigious University Medal for her thesis, ‘Altering Perspectives.’ She also received an MFA degree in Studio Art from Concordia University, Montreal where her thesis, ‘Remnants of Separation’ became the first and the only research paper explaining the importance of tangible objects and the material remains of the Partition of India in 1947. It was this thesis that gained her enormous appreciation and fame as a writer and researcher. The research of this thesis has been further compiled into a book of narrative non-fiction and published by HarperCollins India with the same title. She often expresses her interest in the recollection and compliance of memories. Her projects showcase the cultural dispersion, collective experience and the importance of family history. She has her own photo blog named ‘The Hiatus Project’ and is also the co-founder of Museum of Material Memory, a digital repository of tangible objects from the Indian Subcontinent that aid in preserving social ethnography and culture.