Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Gay Bawa Odmark to Draw Back Curtain on Year That Changed Pakistan, India
Gay Bawa Odmark in Paris
Monday, March 18, 2019


As an accomplished artist, Gay Bawa Odmark can trace the genesis for her artwork back to the riots that broke out in the wake of India’s independence from Great Britain when she was 7.

When an English mapmaker created the nations of India and Pakistan by drawing an arbitrary line on a map, 12 million people were displaced and a half-million people died in the fighting that ensued between Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs.

Brothers killed brothers who had been allotted more land than they. And the Muslim servants who worked for Odmark’s family served them breakfast in the morning and waged jihad at night.

Odmark’s own family fled to England and later Kolkata, India. But not before she witnessed trucks rolling through the streets carrying dismembered legs and arms.

“When I started painting, I only painted arms and limbs. It took me forever to get the body together,” said Odmark, whose hometown of Lahore is now part of Pakistan rather than India because of the 1947 partitioning. “I don’t know how much of my work is influenced by that.”

Odmark will talk about “The Consequences of Colonialism” in a conversation with Sun Valley Center for the Arts Curator Courtney Gilbert during a free presentation at 6 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, at the Community Library in Ketchum.

The conversation is part of the Sun Valley Center for the Arts’ new BIG IDEA project “Unraveling: Reimagining the Colonization of the Americas.” It will feature photographs from Odmark’s family albums, as well as images of artwork she has made in response to her memories of life in India.

Odmark has created a rich tapestry of artwork over the years in a variety of mediums including some incorporating traditional village stitchery into her printmaking and collages. Many of her pieces feature traditional symbols of her homeland, including the lotus, which was the symbol of the third guru of Sikhism.

Gilbert said the presentation grew out of two days she spent with Odmark recording an oral history of Odmark’s life for the 1947 Partition Archive, an online collection of stories from those who lived through that tumultuous time.

“I’ve known Gay for more than a decade, and I am deeply interested in the way she’s used her artistic practice as a means for processing her memories of India. But this was the first time I heard the full timeline of her and her family’s experiences in Lahore, before Partition, and then in England and Kolkata after 1947,” she said. “Her story is so fascinating and offers such a personal perspective on the impacts of colonialism that we felt our community would enjoy hearing directly from Gay as part of a larger conversation about how colonial histories get told—and who tells them.”


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