UCLA’s Fowler Museum’s Sikh art showcase features contemporary geniuses

Artist Kanwal Dhaliwal‘s art work of Amrita Pritam

Ritu Jha–

The Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has been running an exhibition titled ‘I Will Meet You Yet Again’ that showcases contemporary Sikh Art form. The exhibition was inaugurated January 28 will run until May 26, 2024, and has displayed more than 40 contemporary paintings, textiles, soundscapes, poetry, and digital media that highlight the Sikh understanding of “home.”

“The title of the exhibition ‘I Will Meet You Yet Again’ is inspired by a poem titled ‘Main Tainu Fir Milangi’ written by Amrita Pritam, one of India’s most celebrated writers and a pioneer of modern Punjabi poetry,” Sonia Dhami, curator of the painting exhibition at Fowler Museum, and president of Art & Tolerance and trustee of The Sikh Foundation told indica.

Dhami, in an interview with indica, said the reason she felt the title is apt for this exhibition is that all the art showcased here is filtered through the lens of a home.

“How we struggle for home, how we build it, and then how we long for what we’ve left behind,” Sonia Dhami, curator of the painting exhibition at Fowler Museum, and president of Art & Tolerance and trustee of The Sikh Foundation, told indica.

“This is the first time that the Fowler Museum has organized such an exhibition. They approached me a couple of years ago and we began working together. Recently, they invited me to curate this exhibition in which they wanted to showcase the Sikh community.”

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Dhami took inspiration from her life while working on the theme of the exhibition. “There are many parallels between our individual lives and our collective lives as a community. Sangharsh, Basera, and Birha keep coming back to us repeatedly in our lives. I felt that this is the right way to describe the recurrent nature of these aspects of building life. These things will keep returning to our lives. We will struggle in certain ways and long for what we’ve left behind but we continue to build,” she added.

“Works of artists from India, Pakistan, England, Canada, and the US, are being showcased at the exhibition. We have three works related to the 1984 state-endorsed genocidal pogroms against Sikhs in India. Two of the paintings have come from the Bay Area. One is from the Kapani collection and one is from the Fremont Gurdwara.

“Gauri Gill of New Delhi, India has painted 1984 Notebook, (2013) – one of the few projects that document anti-Sikh pogroms and the stories of those who survived. She is one of the senior artists in the show, but her work is digital. I’ve chosen these three works that show the aftermath of Operation Blue Star – the attack on the Golden Temple.

“Another painting shows the pain of the massacres that happened after the assassination of the then prime minister Indira Gandhi. These are Gauri’s work documenting the effects of how the victims are living their lives now. She’s interviewed widows, and children and has taken responses from 41 other artists, authors, and filmmakers on the events of the 1984 massacre that happened in Delhi and other places. She’s compiled that into a notebook that is being displayed digitally in the show,” she told indica.

“The uniqueness of this show is it shows these aspects which are the biggest motivations for doing this exhibition. Sikh art traditionally has always been paired with either religion or history. That leaves very little space for any narrative from the perspective of women. But in this exhibition, we have created space for the gender perspective. We are looking at things from their lens, whether it is female artists or the visualization. We created a space for women in the show. These women artists are taking up their legitimate space alongside men, and they’re also uniquely reflective. It’s a gender-balanced narrative. There is space for the women artists which enables us to look through their eyes.”

“There are over 40 artworks in six sections in the exhibition. The first section is about Sikh history in the US. There are two displays in this section addressing hate crimes and hate speech. And the second is about Sikhs claiming their space in this landscape. Then we have the 1947 partition, then we have artworks portraying the 1984 period. And then we move on to how religion inspires artists. There are four works in this section. Then we have the section that is focused on women.”

Paintings in this exhibition highlight milestone events as well history of the community. “We also have exhibits on the farmers’ protest of 2023 that also highlight the participation of women in the protest. The paintings show how the protest changed how women look at themselves and their role in that. Women say that they work in the fields, and are farmers too. We are not the women of old now, we are in a new generation. We want to march shoulder to shoulder with you. We are not just supporters the fight is ours.”

“Through this show, I’ve tried to tell the story of my community, but I’ve also made space for personal stories because it’s very hard to tell the story of one community. There are as many stories as there are community members.”

“How I’m looking at it is people have to make a personal connection to work. When they see it, then it is meaningful to them. And I think in this show, people of my generation will be able to connect to some of the work put on display. Younger people from the millennials and GenZs will be able to connect to some work, but then my parents will also be able to connect to work. It’s this personal bonding.

“There is one piece by a Canadian artist, and it is a very futuristic piece. She’s imagining Earth. Life on Earth is kind of wiped out because of some cataclysmic event. And then there are these beautiful structures that governments have built out in space where people are taking refuge now. So those who survive the earth will live there. And how that architecture is breathing through domes made of skin that modulates temperature and other things. At the exhibition, you are looking at the future, but at the same time, there are things from the past, there are things from the present, and the future,” she added.

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