Speaking in Stones
By HG Masters
A marble hand appears on screen and then floats above a grainy, colorless photograph of a city’s rooftops. A woman’s voice speaks, explaining she is trapped inside this marble body, her “pale, petrified fingers exhausted from their centuries-old sleep.” As the marble hand clears rows of stone cubes to reveal another photograph of old wooden balconies, the voice explains, “My fingertips follow the line that consists of an infinite number of points . . . gathering fragments of time and space for my own imagined universe.” Then the video cuts to contemporaneous footage of bright pink fabric that covers the black-and-white tiled floor of a derelict, yellow-walled courtyard.
These stop-motion animated opening scenes of Hera Büyüktaçıyan’s 11-minute video Infinite Nectar (2019) begin a poetic travelogue through Sikh history in Lahore and the wider Punjab region. The marble hand that guides us belongs to a sculpture of the last Sikh queen of Punjab, Maharani Jind Kaur (1817–1863), who was imprisoned and exiled for inspiring resistance against the British colonial regime after the First Anglo-Sikh War (1845–46). Büyüktaçıyan recorded the footage with her collaborator, the writer and curator Hajra Haider Karrar, at two surviving Sikh places of worship in Lahore, the Gurdwara Shaheed Bhai Taru Singh and Gurdwara Chhevin Patshahi. These sacred spaces are physical remnants of the large population that once lived in the city before the migrations and violence of the 1947 Partition. In today’s Pakistan, the gurdwaras remain contested by hardline Islamists who revive historical disputes with the Sikhs, and are encroached upon by local land mafias. Yet Büyüktaçıyan was drawn to how “with these certain facts, time freezes and becomes petrified.” For her, the gurdwaras are examples of sites that embody “the material memory of unstable places.”