Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946 – 2017

Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946 is a collaborative art project that revisits an episode of India’s struggle for self-rule: the 1946 insurrection of Royal Indian Navy sailors.  The work was exhibited March 17-25, 2017, in Coomaraswamy Hall, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS), Mumbai, India. It was also re-installed in February 2018 at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi as part of Vivan Sundaram’s career retrospective exhibiton.

On 18 February 1946 a strike was declared on HMIS Talwar, the signal training establishment of the Royal Indian Navy, at Colaba, Bombay. Within a day a total of 10,000 naval ratings posted across the Indian ocean took charge of sixty six ships and on-shore naval establishments. On the fourth day of the strike Bombay’s industrial labour force joined the struggle in a show of solidarity, and the city closed down. Ranged against the strikers was the might of the British armed forces, threatening to destroy the navy. The Indian national leadership, then at the threshold of independence, refused to support the uprising. The curfew that followed ended with over two hundred people killed on the streets and the surrender of the sailors on the dawn of February 23.

Widely considered a ‘failure’ in its time and since then conveniently erased from Indian nationalist history, seventy years on the February 1946 uprising refuses to be assimilated into any single narrative.

Based on archival material sourced in India and the UK, Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946 revisits these five days as a memory that flashes up at a moment of danger, an episode that challenges India’s present trajectory.

Meanings of Failed Action: Insurrection 1946 is presented in the form of a monumental installation comprising Vivan Sundaram’s artwork, David Chapman’s 8-channel sound piece, a forty feet mural, and a library of historical documents sourced and curated by Valentina Vitali and Ashish Rajadhyaksha.