Sikh Artists Talk about Contemporary Paintings at the 550th Birth Anniversary Exhibit for Guru Nanak

Ritu Jha-

Several local and international Sikh artists commemorated the 550th Birth anniversary of Guru Nanak by expressing their honor through contemporary paintings, the first exhibition of its kind held in the United States. The theme was “Expressions of Divinity.”

The ongoing exhibition at the Triton Museum in Santa Clara, California, that started on Aug. 31, by the Sikh Foundation International, the exhibition is showcasing paintings by over nine artists and will be on display until Nov. 3.

Artist Rupy C. Tut brought in paintings showing the political scene in the US. An artist from Canada, Keerat Kaur brought in paintings inspired by nature and health. Momi Tanya’s paintings show the partition of India. The theme of her paintings was “Power of the Word.”

Assemblymember Ash Kalra with Sonia Dhami.

Sonia Dhami, Executive Director of the Sikh Foundation, told indica that this is the first contemporary Sikh Art exhibit in the United States and its purpose is to commemorate at Guru Nanak 550 Birth anniversary.

“This whole year is celebrated as the anniversary all over the world and The Sikh Foundation thought they should [celebrate] in a way in which can bring the art community [together] because Guru Nanak was also an artist.”

The painting exhibits started today ( Aug. 31) and will be running every day for the next two months. The exhibit is free everyone is welcome.

The paintings are reflective of Guru Nanak. Many younger artists say that they are inspired by Guru Nanak. His inspiration is reflected in their work as artists.

When asked if this has been long-awaited since Sikhs have been in the US for 130 years. Dhami agreed and said, “Today we are having the first contemporary art exhibit. So, I think it was long overdue.”

“It’s an expression of divinity and divine.”

“Is it very much needed, especially for Silicon Valley. This connection with art is sometimes missing and we can connect people to [its] sensitivity,” Dhami said.

Artists are able to bring the continuity from the past to the present.

In reference to some of the paintings displayed she said, “Some works are historical events that happen and how [they are] affecting us today. It’s a way in which artists drive the conversation and they are representative of how as a community we are doing.”

“We have our professions of course like doctors and engineers but it is the creative endeavors that show how well the community is doing,” Dhami said.

Artist Rupy Tut showing her painting to Dr.N. S. Kapany.

So do agree on Dr. N.S. Kapany-Founder  Chairman, The Sikh Foundation sharing his thoughts on hosting the exhibition in Silicon Valley said, “It’s a wonderful location and timing.”

“It’s lovely to do this,” Dr. Kapany told indica.

Assemblymember Ash Kalra who was present at the exhibition told indica, “This is an extraordinary exhibit and it’s a testament to the community because this hasn’t happened overnight and has happened after many-many years of the community sharing its experiences and sharing its art for the first time in this country.”

“It’s really a landmark moment, and I am impressed by the contemporary artists and the generations to come, knowing artists here are able to express their relationship with Sikhism,” said Karla.

Adding further she said, “Especially at this time when it’s so necessary to be able to spread culture through art in such a profound way.”

Pointing about 9/11 and how the hate-crime, particularly against the Sikh community, grew, Kalra said, “Now with this president, people see its rising again.”

“The Sikh community [needs to] continue to be pro-active just like [with this] exhibit and be unapologetic about who they are and about the contributions [they have] made to this great nation.”

The Sikh community was the first to come from South Asia and people cannot forget that. “We talk about Silicon Valley and their Indian community, but first it was Punjabis who came here working in the fields in late 1800s and created the foundation for families.”

Santa Clara Councilmember, Raj Chahal on the exhibition said “The Bay Area has a diverse community and we need to add to the diversity and let people know about different cultures. So, all the residents of a particular city and area should know about the other cultures as well.”

Attendees look on at Keerat Kaur’s paintings.

“Especially with what’s happening at the federal level it is much more important right now than ever,” said Chahal.

Keerat Kaur of London, Ontario in Canada explained that a lot of her themes are drawn from the Sikh culture and Sikh spirituality. About being part of the exhibition she said, “I am super grateful because I got to showcase a lot of my work that is tied back to the philosophy of Guru Nanak.”

Kaur said that a lot of her inspiration comes from nature as well.

Tanya Momi, a local artist in Mountain View, California pointing to a painting she finished on Aug. 14 for the exhibition said. “It’s Inspired by the partitions of India and Pakistan.”

Sharing her talent she said she paints cubism, realism, abstract and social realism. “I bring art that deals with what my values are, what my religion, my spirituality had taught,” said Momi.

“Today I have brought them ‘Power of the Word.‘” She said.

Tanya Momi showing her painting ‘Divide’ at the exhibition.

Another local artist present was Rupy Tut, who has her studio in Oakland, California.  She said she keeps traveling around the world to show her work and keep up her training as a traditional artist.

“For me, one particular value [that being a] Sikh enforces is that you care not only about yourself but other communities and so all the paintings I have at the exhibition are about not only focusing on historical hardship or tragedy but also focusing on how others have coped with it,” said Tut. “The idea is to preserve the art form but also innovate and create my own identity.”

Tut pointing to one of her paintings on display and said, “One of my paintings is political, this painting shows that woman are being oppressed.”

Tut asked, “Why do woman bear under the most pressed spot?” Which she captured in her painting. “At the same time the painting shows understanding the politics, the Republican elephant, the Democratic donkey and the constituting which is shielding the eagle. It’s important for me to voice.”] “I think our political scene currently […] what’s happening in our country, I take that very seriously.”

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