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Spilt Milk: Tracing Imperial Tears

Joscelyn Gardner's work at Chaudhuri Buri (Baruipur, India) takes an allegorical approach to tracing the multi-layered history of India's encounter with British Imperialism. Staged in four parts in several spaces within the house, Spilt Milk attempts to reveal a history of failed ideals using the metaphor of the female body to explore the idea of Mother India (symbolized by the house) as site of both production and exploitation during the colonial era in which the house thrived. A truncated railway line (symbol of British incursion) ruptures the grand entranceway to the house as it crosses the threshold into the public courtyard. Deeper within this stately nineteenth-century dwelling house, in the dark, damp storage rooms of the zenana (the secluded women's quarters), a traditional kairy pattern (adopted in Britain as the paisley design) is traced in spices on the floor. Forming a large teardrop, this mango/fertility symbol acts in conjunction with the multimedia installation in the adjoining storage room to suggest sadness for a country built on the backs of its women and torn apart by the violence of partition. The second room, where offerings to the gods were stored for religious festivals, centres on the female breast as symbol of both nurture and production as well as a repository of familial, religious, and national honour. In the final stage of the work, Chaudhuri Buri is activated through live performance in a gesture of hope for a new India. Unravelling from a white strip of muslin which bandages her breasts, an Indian dancer enacts the desire for freedom from the oppressive past.

Spilt Milk
Spilt Milk
Installation of kairy floor pattern
floor of the zenana
detail of kairy pattern
detail of kairy pattern
Entrance to Chaudhuri Buri
Detail showing railway

This project was made possible through funding from Khoj Kolkata and the Canada Council for the Arts, 2006.

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