The biggest mass migration in history: new show at University of Greenwich gallery


Armed men are smashing down the door. What do you grab as you flee? A new exhibition at the University of Greenwich looking at 1947’s Indian partition asks the audience what it’s like to leave everything behind.

The partition, the largest mass migration in history, is the subject of Never Set Eyes on the Land, now showing at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery.

Lead artist and director Ajay Chhabra's family were forced from their home city of Sargodha where the family had lived for over 500 years. They left with nothing.

Ajay says: "Partition saw 14 million Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians forced from their homes. My family had cotton mills but crossed the border with only the clothes they wore.

"My dad came to London and made his home in Plumstead, where I now live with my family. This show has toured nationwide but the link to Greenwich is so relevant and special to me. People want to know about history – good and bad – so it's important to keep this story going while there are still people around who lived through it.

"One side of the exhibition is set up like a 1947 Indian kitchen, just before a family was forced out. It is eerie, a space that was loved but has now changed forever.

"The other side is a more reflective, set out like a library. The work is interactive and people can write what they would take if they had to flee, for example."

Ajay, of art and performance company Nutkhut, has teamed up with Greenwich history lecturer Dr Gavin Rand, Partition survivors, community groups, schools, heritage volunteers and artists to create this installation.

The show includes photographs by renowned Time magazine photographer Margaret Bourke-White and uses sounds recorded at the time and old news footage.

The exhibition takes its name from a line in WH Auden's poem, Partition, written 20 years after the subcontinent was divided along borders drawn up by a British barrister.

The launch will be attended by Nutkhut's patrons Lord and Lady Dholakia, Danny Thorpe, leader of Greenwich Council, and colleagues from across the University.

This free exhibition is on at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery until Friday 17 May.

Private View: Wednesday 8 May, 6pm. 

Stephen Lawrence Gallery, 10 Stockwell Street, London, SE10 9BD. Tuesday-Friday: 11am-5pm. Saturday: 11am-4pm.

An abandoned kitchen forms part of the new show looking at the Indian partition