Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946

March 15, 2017


Mumbai: Vivan Sundaram and Ashish Rajadhyaksha’s installation Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946 will be on view for public from March 17 - 25, 2017, at Coomarswamy Hall, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) Mumbai. The soundwork for this installation is by David Chapman.

In February 1946, in Bombay, seamen of the Royal Indian Navy led an insurrection against the colonial government. The event took place mainly in the former Castle Barracks in today's Lion Gate, Mumbai. For a period of six days the city saw a violent confrontation between the striking seamen, supported by the trade unions and the working class, and the combined might of the British army, navy and air force. There was an attempted dialogue with the national leadership then at the threshold of independence. A challenge to the Empire, it remains an enigma within nationalist discourse. Widely considered a 'failure', this forgotten event can yet be seen as a catalyst for exploring other histories, and other legacies for imagining freedom anew: for the city, for India and even perhaps internationally.

Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946 is presented in the form of a monumental installation. Vivan Sundaram constructs a steel and aluminium object, a ‘ship’. The ‘hold’ is a performance space that plays a forty-minute sound work merging archival and contemporary recordings. The sound has been arranged and composed by British sound artist David Chapman. Hundreds of collaged newspaper reports in multiple languages and diverse points of view are constructed into a mural. The Empire’s telegraphic communications around the event come together with original documents from Bombay. New books on the event and renditions of books published at the time, these form a ‘library’. The archives have been conceptualised by Ashish Rajadhyaksha and researched together with film historian Valentina Vitali.

A collaboration between the artist Sundaram and the cultural theorist Rajadhyaksha, this is intended as a work of public art. It continues Sundaram's 'history project' installed in Kolkata's Victoria Memorial in 1998; Rajadhyaksha develops form and purpose for interrogating this archive; artist and theorist place their stakes in larger unresolved histories.

This work is inpartnership with Chemould Prescott Road, School of Arts and Digital Industries, University of East London, Vadehra Art Gallery, Akara Art Gallery and Bhashya Prakashan.