Pallavi Paul’s installation Burn the Diaries (2014–2019) poses questions about the power of language and truth. The monumental 110-foot-silk scroll spills into the gallery space and features translated excerpts in Morse code and English from the personnel file and archive of former Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) agent Noor Inayat Khan.
Paul takes inspiration from Khan’s unique story and mysterious death. Khan was a descendant of Tipu Sultan, an 18th-century emperor of Mysore who struggled against British colonialism. Due to complex circumstances, Noor became a spy for the S.O.E, a British secret service agency during World War II. Khan vanished during the war. Her body was never recovered, and her personnel file is laced with contradictions and gaps.
Paul attempts to spatially reconstruct and condense the numerous written accounts of Khan’s years under the S.O.E across the scroll. But most of the scroll remains hidden, yet to be unraveled.
In past iterations of Burn the Diaries, Paul incorporated a performance in which visitors read aloud the Morse code from the scroll. The gibberish-like words further obscured the language of the archive, raising questions about the collective responsibility of retelling history.
Paul states, “The success of a secret agent depends on how well they’re able to erase their trail, and how invisible they are in the larger scheme of things.” Along with several other artists on view in Clapping with Stones, Paul creates an image through absences and erasures and builds a new visual language toward a more inclusive history.
Read the transcript of Burn the Diaries at https://rubinmuseum.org/page/pallavi-pauls-burn-the-diaries