Today’s Story from the Museum Floor is a guest post by Harriet Morgan-Shami, Project Co-ordinator of the Memories of Partition exhibition, currently on display at Manchester Museum. This exhibition marks the 70th anniversary of the independence and partition of India, captures the memories and stories of those affected by the 1947 Partition of India into India and Pakistan and later Bangladesh in 1971.
“Listening to these stories has been a great privilege. People have been so generous with their time, possessions and memories. The exhibition brings to light this significant period in history and the impact on subsequent generations of British Asians in Manchester.”
– Harriet Morgan-Shami, Memories of Partition Project Co-ordinator
Memories of Partition
The partition of India led to the largest mass migration in human history, with an estimated 15 million people being displaced, and tens of thousands of others caught up in the ensuing violence. Seven decades on, the memories of Partition are still strong and this project has provided a unique opportunity for Manchester Museum to work closely with local South Asian communities, chronicling their untold stories, hidden histories and recording the experiences of different generations impacted by Partition.
Delivered through a unique collaboration between Manchester Museum, Manchester BME Network, Royal Exchange Theatre and the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Centre, Memories of Partition includes the exhibition, the creation and performance of new theatre pieces and an archive of oral history recordings.
Funded by HLF, the project launched with a series of reminiscence workshops for older people from Muslim, Sikh and Hindu backgrounds at their local community centres and places of worship. These sessions used objects from the Museum’s collections to trigger memories and inspire discussion about life before the Partition, people’s childhoods and thoughts about home. With the support of project partner, Manchester BME Network, relationships were established with these groups and individuals were identified to share their specific stories of Partition.
Along with the support of community champions/volunteers, as Project Co-ordinator, I have now recorded 15 oral history interviews with direct witnesses and family members from Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh backgrounds.
Jason Singh talking about his family history and objects relating to the lives and careers of his grand parents and great grandparent.
Nine of these interviews were filmed by filmmaker Kim May of Asta Films, and form the basis of the exhibition at Manchester Museum which opened on 14th August 2017, the 70th anniversary of Indian and Pakistani independence. You can also check out the films on the Manchester Museum YouTube channel.
Included in the exhibition are a diverse range of personal objects owned by interviewees and connected to the Partition experience. They include photographs, documents, letters and household objects that survived tumultuous journeys.
The Memories of Partition exhibition was brought to life over 5 days of performances in September through a series of events.
Come Closer brought together 10 British Asian writers and spoken word artists to explore the legacy of Partition through a series of monologues revealing the untold stories of the significance of Partition and the impact still felt today. Performances took place as a pop-up theatre in 6 different venues across Manchester – Manchester Museum, Royal Exchange Theatre, Indian Senior Citizens Centre, Longsight Library, Abraham Moss School and the Welcome Centre.
The performances at the Museum took place in the Memories of Partition exhibition space and the Study on the 3rd floor. Visitors came across performers and were treated to short performances as they explored the museum. The performance at the Indian Senior Citizens Centre was particularly moving as older people visibly connected with their history and culture.
We are now moving into the final phase of the project which will include a series of engagement workshops with older people and school children where both will write letters to each other exploring the legacy of Partition. We are also hoping to organise visits and events for community groups that provide a space for people to explore the themes and issues raised by the exhibition.
Memories of Partition is part of Manchester Museum’s ongoing engagement with local South Asian communities, and is a part of the New North and South citywide programme of arts and culture. And this is just the start of Manchester Museum’s vibrant programme of events relating to South Asia, leading up to the opening of a new South Asia Gallery, developed in partnership with the British Museum in 2020.