9/11 is a day of reflection, of remembrance, of contemplation. The questions of “What if?” and “How did this happen?” infiltrate media stories, blogs, and posts. This year, the 22nd anniversary of 9/11 falls shortly after the yearlong 75th anniversary of the partition in India, delineating the boundaries of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India.
The Art Center Highland Park is currently exhibiting the latest iteration of Pritika Chowdhry’s Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories, Part 2: Partition Anti-Memorial Project. Over the past 15 years, she has created ten different anti-memorials with the tenth one previewing at TAC during this pivotal time.
While installing the exhibit, Pritika and curator, Caren Helene Rudman added an installation commenting on 9/11, adding to the complexity of the intersection between these massive geopolitical events in history.
TAC is proud to continue to produce thought-provoking exhibits that build on the power of art to communicate, share ideas, and hear from voices often left out of the dialogue. This video highlights the dialogue between artist Pritika Chowdhry and author Dr. Jacque Micieli as they discuss 9/11 & Partition of India.
The work of Pauline Kochanski is not easily pigeonholed. Her artistic career spans both decades and mediums, producing photographs, ink drawings, watercolor paintings, and hand-crafted ceramics. In her early twenties, Kochanski was introduced to photography and eventually earned a degree from Colombia College, then still at its original location on Ohio and Lakeshore Drive. Kochanski worked in the photo and printing industries, but all the while she was drawing. When non-degree courses were offered at the Art Institute and Truman College, Kochanski took part. “I’ve always liked having my hand to draw,” Kochanski says, “That’s why I liked the darkroom almost more than any other part of photography—because my hand was in the work.”
Now retired, Kochanski is able to make time every day for artwork: “I believe that I need to do something every day that’s about writing or visual art. Even if I’m reading about it or going to look at art, I’m participating every day in something that is creative or creates ideas. Because that is one of my main ways of identifying myself. There are so many things that I do. I meditate every day and I do yoga every day. It’s important for me to feel as if I am being myself every day.”
For Kochanski, being herself means being a little bit of everything at once. She is not simply a photographer or ceramicist, an artist or mindfulness meditation teacher or grandmother. She is all of these things at once. “We are not all one thing at one time,” Kochanski says, “ we have many, many identities. Sometimes when people say, ‘How would you describe yourself?’ I find that a really to be a really difficult thing to answer. At that moment I am whatever I am doing at that moment.”
Like her identity, Kochanski’s work is similarly multilayered. As Kochanski says, “In my drawings, I layer color over color. So there’s a color often underneath a black background—there’s a little gold, or a little blue, or a little red that comes out because there is always something beyond the outside. There are many layers to everything that we do, everything that we are. So even in my ceramics, the insides are smoother than the outsides, because there is a difference between who we are inside and how we present ourselves. How people perceive us is often different than how we think we are perceived. It’s not a dichotomy that we live with, it’s just that we are many things.”
As part of our Member Highlight program, Kochanski’s ceramic works are now featured in the TAC Gift Shop. Skillfully crafted but organic in their formations, these vases, bowls, and stones feature natural hews with flecks of gold leaf. According to Kochanski, these bright additions to her work have a touching origin story: “The gold leaf is really important to me. I was doing some ceramics and a piece broke and I got really upset about it. We tried fixing it and it came out of the first firing and the piece broke off again and I just decided to work with it. I had all this gold leaf in the house that had belonged to my husband, he was deceased by that time. So I decided to gold leaf all the broken edges. So it became part of my work. It fits into the end of a poem by Leonard Cohen, where he talks about how ‘there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’ To me it really talks about life, it’s kind of a thing that I carry with me. Because there are cracks, we are perfect in our imperfections. We are each individual. No one is like me, no one is like you. We are perfect as we are. But there are cracks that let the light come into us and let the light come out of us. Those are the kinds of things I try to carry.”
Pauline Kochanski’s work will be for sale at TAC through September. Also, be on the lookout for Kochanski’s upcoming solo exhibition, which will be presented by the North Shore Art League at the Winnetka Community House next summer. Click here to visit Kochanski’s website.
Are you a current TAC member interested in being featured as a future member highlight? To apply, please fill out the Member Highlight Application, found here, and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org or bring it to The Art Center office.
Not yet a member, but want to participate? Sign up for a TAC Membership here!
On Mourning, Memory, and Monuments
by -Mia Morettini
On July 4 of this year, Highland Park citizens, joined by senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin and Governor JB Pritzker, gathered at City Hall to begin a procession through the city. Their march began in somber silence at exactly 10:14 am—the time at which just one year earlier a mass shooting during the city’s Independence Day parade left seven people dead and 48 others injured. This gathering was not only a moment to memorialize a tragedy. It was a reclamation of a community celebration that for the past year has been shrouded in violence.
In “Unbearable Memories, Unspeakable Histories, Part 2: Partition Anti-Memorial Project” on view at The Art Center, Pritika Chowdhry offers her own reclamation of history. The exhibition is a reenvisioning of the historical narrative of the 1947 Partition of India, Pakistan, and later Bangladesh—a division that is historically celebrated as the independence of India from the vice grip of British imperialism. Far less acknowledged are the long-term effects of partition: masses of displaced people, violent border disputes, and ongoing crises in the region of Kashmir.
In her approach to commemorating the Partition as a moment of empowerment for formerly colonized nations and great devastation in its social reality, Chowdhry remarked, “India’s independence in 1947 is forever linked with its ghostly twin, the Partition.” Spectrality is key to approaching Chowdhry’s work in its form, content, and significance to the Highland Park community.
By meticulously casting latex segments of significant monuments to the Partition in Delhi, Lahore, and Dhaka, Chowdhry is able to bring great stone and marble monoliths into the intimate space of The Art Center’s gallery. These casts bear only the traces of their architectural sources—an emboss of relief carvings and brick and mortar—and gain an embodiment reminiscent of flesh or fauna. While the original monuments are popular sites of tourism and pilgrimage, Chowdhry’s casts float from ceilings, bear visible wrinkles and blemishes, and cast semi-opaque shadows as light streams through their thin skin.
Chowdhry allows the monuments to take on a life beyond their didactic roles as markers of history and sites of remembrance. She presents them as works of art—sculptures to be studied closely, situated amongst, and contextualized within contemporary discourse. Moments of familiarity and definition in Chowdhry’s anti-monuments are overwhelmed by the new interpretations and interactions they take on in the gallery. These efforts illustrate her counter-memory lens—that is, a memory formation built through lived experiences and social realities rather than widely acknowledged historical narratives. In her fleshy, haunting notations of the partition, Chowdhry illustrates that history is not a fixed point outlined by a handful of monuments, but something strange, personal, present, and ever-shifting.
For the sake of healing, counter-memory work could be an important project for Highland Park. While ostensibly distanced from the histories Chowdhry’s anti-monuments reference, this audience can find companionship with her approach, perhaps even a rubric to take note of– challenge the ubiquity of American mass shootings, remember together– in small moments and grand gatherings. And in the act of memorializing, hold space for celebration, challenge, strangeness, even haunting. History lives within and through the present day, and it is our task to continue to reckon with it.