We are all tent dwellers in a desert space (the world), inhabiting tents made of flesh (our bodies). - John Durham Peters
Five Rivers: A Portrait of Partition illustrates the intimate complexities of “home.” Staged inside a traditional Indian wedding tent, this cycloramic screening marries culture-bridging conventions of storytelling to the sensory stimulation of a sculptural installation. Projected footage occupies select surfaces of the space, conducting a conflation of four synchronized films that craft the narrative of Amrik Singh, Kharbanda’s father, a Punjabi/Afghani Sikh who at age nine left his childhood home to make a migration alongside millions across the Indian Subcontinent in the months preceding the Partition of India in 1947. Singh’s introspective recollections carry an oracular invitation for participants to trace his turbulent journey to redefine home across the sudden and stark borders evinced by the establishment of Pakistan and India as independent states. Clearly visible on the white textile of the tent from both inside and outside the structure, these immersive sequences of interviews, landscapes, and historical documentation are fostered by a pervasive soundtrack of contemporary Punjabi and Urdu poetry, diaristic testimony, and speeches that imbibe the space with a potent sense of the memory.
The installation employs the tent as a symbol of diversity, a congregational space that transcends its otherwise overtly historical discourse. At its core, Five Rivers strives to extend the reach of Singh’s search for self within an ever-changing and fragile demography to stake out a common ground that obscures both imagined and literal divisions and inspires an overarching sense of unity.