Amar Nath Sehgal Oral History Project

Amar Nath Sehgal Oral History Project is a collaborative effort with the Partition Museum in association with Amar Nath Sehgal Private Collection to document and preserve the experiences of millions of people who were affected by the Partition of India in 1947. This event marked the largest mass migration of the 20th century, with millions of people displaced and many losing their lives.

The collection of oral histories aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the Partition and its aftermath, including the freedom movement, the uprooting of homes, the struggles and challenges faced by Partition survivors, the building of new homes across the border, the process of reconnecting with communities, and the emotional and psychological toll of returning to the places that were once home.

Through these oral histories, the project seeks to honour and give voice to the millions of people who experienced the Partition firsthand and provide future generations with a deeper understanding of this complex and traumatic event. The stories of the Partition survivors and their families are a testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable adversity.

The Partition of India is a significant event in world history, and its impact is still felt today. By preserving these oral histories, the Amar Nath Sehgal Oral History Project, in collaboration with the Partition Museum, ensures that the voices of those affected by this event are heard and remembered for future generations.

Amar Nath Sehgal

Amar Nath Sehgal was born in Campbellpur, a large cantonment, in Attock District, Pakistan on 5th February 1922.  The Indian Modern artist was the fourth child of seven children to parents Ram Asra Mal and Parmeshwari Devi. Sehgal learnt to appreciate art as a child, but his conventional education led him to pursue a degree in physics as an engineer. His father, a civil lawyer was part of a large family of tradesmen who passed away at a young age in 1941. This propelled Sehgal to pursue his studies in industrial Chemistry in Banaras for a year, to appease his wishes. After his time at BHU, he began evening classes at the Mayo school of art. In 1945, Sehgal joined the Lahore School of Fine Arts, under the guidance of his mentor B.C. Sanyal. At the age of 25, Sehgal was forced to move to a new Independent India after the Partition of 1947.
In 1949, Sehgal moved to America to pursue art education at New York University. He returned to India, after three years and started his career as an art teacher at the Modern School, Barakhamba road, New Delhi. He worked relentlessly for over a decade on the revival of folk art and theatre in rural areas of Northern India like Nilokheri in Punjab and Jharsa in Haryana under the Ministry of Community Development.

His extensive travels in India and abroad made him a versatile artist that fed his curious mind. His response to the victims of calamities, war, and poverty was the result of his inherently sensitive nature. The impact of tragedy of Partition deeply impacted the man, which comes through many of his artworks. Art was a cathartic process creating highly expressive forms portraying human emotions of anguish, helplessness, oppression or a yearning for hope. 

Amar Nath Sehgal’s artistic versatility extends to sculptures, paintings, poetry, graphics and tapestries. His works can be found in public and private collections all over the world like the Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, the 20th Century Museum of Vienna and Berlin, the Israel Museum, the National Gallery of Modern Art and the White House among others. The Amar Nath Sehgal Private Collection resides in his studio home in New Delhi. 

Although he was educated as a physicist, Sehgal became known for his exceptional talent in the arts. The traumatic events he witnessed during the Partition left an indelible mark on his works, which are characterized by their simple yet highly expressive forms that convey a deep sense of pathos. His sculptures capture human emotions such as anguish, helplessness, oppression, and a yearning for hope. It is in this context that Shukla Sehgal’s personal account of her husband’s early days as a struggling artist and their life together adds depth to our understanding of Amar Nath Sehgal’s artistic vision.

This monitor provides a captivating window into the lives of over 200 individuals whose oral histories are being played throughout the museum. These poignant accounts shed light on the arduous journeys undertaken by countless individuals who migrated in kafilas or on foot in the aftermath of the 1947 Partition.