The World Goes On – Arpana Caur

Arpana Caur Photo by Raghu RaiArpana Caur Photo by Raghu Rai

Arpana Caur talks with the Sikh Foundation on the impact the tragic events of 1984 have had on her and her role in organizing the “Forgotten Citizens” campaign & the accompanying Photo Exhibit in India.

The Sikh Foundation: It is now 28 years since this Genocide against the Sikhs took place in India. While these horrendous events were unfolding around you, you did not just sit back but were out working and helping in the relief camps. This has given you a unique perspective on this tragedy. As a sensitive artist and an engaged citizen when you look back at these 28 years how do you feel today?

Arpana Caur: It is very hard to talk about that time. The wounds are still fresh. My mother and I worked day and night in the relief camps and we wept a lot as we were purchasing and distributing, necessities to the best of our capacity. The gruesomeness of it all speaks in the pictures.

The Sikh Foundation: In your opinion, what score would you accord the central Government in bringing justice to the victims?

Arpana Caur: Zero score. If some people had been given life sentences it would have applied a little balm. The poorest of the poor were killed, all innocents, in the most brutal manner.

The Sikh Foundation: Has the Sikh community & the Sikh leadership in itself shown empathy and sufficiently supported the victims in rehabilitating the victims both in emotional and material ways?

Arpana Caur: Sikhs and non Sikhs also worked hard in the relief camps but we were a very small number.

The Sikh Foundation: Looking to the future now, what do you think the Sikh Diasporas can do to help progress this fight for justice?

Arpana Caur: I would suggest (I may be wrong) that personal visits to victims and sharing their problems, if the Sikh diaspora have the time! And constantly reminding the government to speed up Justice.

The Sikh Foundation: The 28th anniversary of the Genocide was marked by putting up a Photo Exhibit. Can you tell us more about it?

Arpana Caur: This is H.S.Phoolka’s initiative and I am one of the small group helping him. My role has been adding images to the ones he had, rectifying the old images, printing, mounting and framing. The display panels have been designed by Amardeep Behl. Phoolkaji has displayed them near Jaliawala Bagh on Oct 19, and traveled with this mobile exhibit through 6 cities in Punjab, reaching Delhi on Oct 30.

The Sikh Foundation: Why do you think it is important to showcase these photos and what do you hope to achieve by doing so?

Arpana Caur: To draw public and media attention to these forgotten Indian Citizens. This is a cry for Justice. We will know the Delhi impact only on Nov 3 when a major silent protest is planned at Jantar Mantar in the heart of Delhi which is a venue for all public protests. The 3000 official names of victims in Delhi alone are on the panels, some horrifying affidavits, and 60 photographs, including about 12 paintings images by 3 artists who worked at that time on this subject- Vivan Sundaram, Sushant Guha, and myself.

World Goes On by Arpana Caur World Goes On by Arpana Caur

The Sikh Foundation: As an artist, how did you process all that was going around you? How did you overcome the “politically incorrect” tag to this kind of work?

Arpana Caur: One doesn’t think of what is politically correct at such horrendous times but follows one’s conscience. The series ‘World Goes On’ was cathartic for me, and also a record of the events in my own painter’s language.

The Sikh Foundation: Have other artists also done work on this sensitive issue? If yes, whose work do you find most compelling.

Arpana Caur: Vivan Sundaram and Sushant Guha immediately worked on 1984 like me. Their works are in the exhibition.

The Sikh Foundation: What are your future plans for this “Photo Exhibit”?

Arpana Caur: That is for Phoolka ji to decide as this is his initiative.

The Sikh Foundation: Are you or other artists planning to paint the neglect provided by the Indian judicial system to punish the perpetrators of the 1984 Sikh Massacres?

Arpana Caur: You can do only certain things through painting, the rest through moral and financial support to the best of one’s individual capacity.

By Sonia Dhami, The Sikh Foundation

 Cartoon by Vishavjit Singh

Arpana Caur’s series World Goes On was inspired by the Sikh massacres that occurred after the assassination of Indira Gandhi in1984. In these works, Caur explores the inevitable tragedies of life, the isolation of people in despair, and the apathy of the world around them. Painted in deep, resonant colors, the works are usually divided into three defined areas of water, earth, and sky. Water, which Caur often uses to symbolize death, is often seen as a river or stream at the bottom of the paintings. The subjects of the paintings always consist of a dying or suffering figure, onlookers who are indifferent to the suffering, and in some cases, a deity floating in the sky, representing the unchanging nature of the gods. Although the composition of the works might seem to suggest a dreamlike feeling, the undertones of oppression and trouble make clear that the situations depicted are grounded in reality.


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