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Aug 11, 2023

the cartographer's mistake: the Radcliffe Line

Take a look at one of four works by Sarindar Dhaliwal to join the AGO Collection

Sarindar Dhaliwal. the cartographer’s mistake: the Radcliffe Line

Sarindar Dhaliwal. the cartographer’s mistake: the Radcliffe Line, 2012. Chromira print, 107 x 107 cm. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario. Purchase, with funds by exchange from the J.S. McLean Collection, by Canada Packers Inc., 2020. © Sarindar Dhaliwal. Photo courtesy of the artist. 2019/2467.

This month’s RBC Art Pick highlights the AGO’s first acquisition from multidisciplinary Canadian artist Sarindar Dhaliwal. The artist’s solo exhibition When I grow up I want to be a namer of paint colours is currently on view at the AGO until January 7, 2024. The exhibition showcases works spanning 40 years of Dhaliwal’s career, including four works by the artist to join the AGO Collection: Outside the Zanzibar Tea Gardens, (1984); Dutch/English Lessons for Donald Evans and Me, (1989); Hey Hey Paula (1998) and this month’s RBC Art Pick, the cartographer’s mistake: the Radcliffe Line.

On view on Level 1 in the Phillip B. Lind Gallery (galleries 131 and 132), the cartographer’s mistake: the Radcliffe Line exemplifies Dhaliwal’s signature use of vibrant colours. A digital rendering of a map of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, Dhaliwal reimagines the borders between these countries, filling the map with yellow, orange and red marigolds. The work's title references the Radcliffe line, a borderline created by the British to partition India and Pakistan in 1947. The line is named after British lawyer Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who was tasked with designating the borders despite never travelling to India beforehand. The implementation of the Radcliffe Line has led to the displacement and death of millions and continued conflict to this day.

The geographic areas of India, Pakistan, and East Pakistan (known as Bangladesh after 1971) remain distinct in Dhaliwal’s work, the areas marked by orange, yellow and red marigolds, respectively. However, in the cartographer’s mistake: the Radcliffe Line, the borders between these regions are blended by a continuous bed of marigolds. Known as India’s rose, the marigold is widely regarded for its healing and medicinal properties. In this image, Dhaliwal uses the marigolds to metaphorically heal the scars these colonial borders inflicted.

Reflecting on the cartographer’s mistake: the Radcliffe Line, Dhaliwal writes, “By addressing difficult personal and collective narratives in lush works that employ vibrant colours and floral motifs, I can respond to colonial histories with a critical approach that maintains a reverence for wonder and imagination, so that I may return beauty to the world.”

Dhaliwal was born in Punjab and moved to Southhall, London, with her family when she was four. At 15, she moved to Canada, returning to England in 1978 to get her BA in Fine Art at Falmouth University, Cornwall in England. Returning to Canada and residing here since, Dhaliwal obtained an MFA from York University in 2003 and a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies from Queen's University in Kingston. 

Much of Dhaliwal’s work engages with vivid colours, mixed materials, and vibrant grids. Her work re-visits colonial histories through a personal lens, recounting childhood memories, perceptions of her homeland, and her travels abroad to explore themes of, migration, memory, and identity. 

See the cartographer’s mistake: the Radcliffe Line and a selection of Dhaliwal’s key works in the exhibition When I grow up I want to be a namer of pain colours, on view until January 7, 2024 on Level 1 of the AGO in the Phillip. B Lind Gallery (galleries 131 and 132). 

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