Cornel West, 'Race Matters'
There has always been the exclusion of minority voices and their histories from mainstream historical narratives. This omission occurs due to the privileging of dominant perspectives that seek to legitimize and reinforce existing power structures. Within this context of historical suppression, the Sikh community stands as a poignant example. With a global population of merely 26 million, of which 24 million reside in India — a country with a total populace of 1.4 billion — the Sikh community finds itself not only constituting a minority in the nations they migrated to but also within their own homeland.
Two major historical events — the 1984 Sikh massacre in India, following the assassination of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards, and the post-9/11 era in the USA thoroughly demonstrate the targeting of them as a religious minority. In 1984, the orchestrated violence against Sikhs in India resulted in the tragic loss of thousands of lives because of the misplaced collective anger of the majority born out of prevailing nationalistic discourses. Nationalism fuelled by minority hatred prompted them to commit righteous nationwide violence against the entire Sikh community because of the actions of two Sikh men. That is exactly how majoritarian politics operates. If a criminal were to belong to a majority, he is treated as an individual, but if he is from a minority, then his entire community faces the righteous wrath of the majority.
Similarly, post-9/11 in the USA, Sikhs endured hate crimes and profiling due to their distinct appearance, a consequence of misdirected revenge that failed to distinguish between Sikhism and the perpetrators of the attacks. These events underscore how historical silencing and ongoing prejudice intersect, perpetuate a cycle of discrimination. Recognizing and rectifying these narratives is crucial to fostering inclusivity and a deeper understanding of the multifaceted tapestry of human history. This is where the role of art as a tool for change becomes ever so important.
In this context, we explore an ongoing groundbreaking Sikh art exhibition titled 'Pardafash'. This exhibition features the works of 11 distinguished Sikh artists, who collectively unravel the intricate narratives of Sikh experiences in post-9/11 America. With a profound connection to their homeland, India, where ethnic and religious minorities face oppression, Pardafash stands as an artistic testament to the struggles of the Sikh community. Through a diverse array of artistic mediums, this exhibition aims to reveal hidden stories, trauma, and resilience that resonate with Sikhs across the globe.
Pardafash aptly translates to "reveal the truth" in Punjabi, encapsulating the heart of the exhibition's intent. Against the backdrop of anti-Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) hate crimes and the prevailing unrest against minorities in India, these 11 Sikh artists courageously bring to light the challenges faced by Sikhs living in the aftermath of 9/11. Drawing parallels between their struggles in India during the 1980s and their current experiences abroad, Pardafash offers a window into the multifaceted stories of the Sikh diaspora.
The diversity of mediums employed within Pardafash underscores the richness of the Sikh narrative. Fabric sculpture, video installation, fashion design, augmented reality, film, painting, and animation collectively craft a multi-dimensional portrayal of Sikh experiences. By utilizing these mediums, the artists navigate the complexities of expressing both the visible and the concealed aspects of their community's journey. Through their art, they bravely unveil the traumas of historical tragedies, many of which have been suppressed out of fear of reprisals from the Indian government.
Pardafash transcends conventional artistic exhibitions by serving as a poignant mirror to recent events that have left an indelible impact on the Sikh community. Unlike previous prominent Sikh art displays that primarily focused on historical contexts, this exhibition offers a contemporary portrayal of the evolving Sikh identity. Notably, it is curated by Ravjot Mehek Singh, a Queer Sikh woman, adding another layer of inclusivity and diversity to the narrative.
About the curator:
Ravjot Mehek Singh, an accomplished Indian American Film and TV Director and art activist, has garnered acclaim for her multifaceted achievements at a remarkably young age. Reverberating across Indian media, she is lauded as one of the youngest female directors in Bollywood and stands as a trailblazing director across South Asia as a whole. Ravjot's creative footprint extends into the realm of art installations, showcased in renowned galleries and museums including the Guggenheim Museum, often in collaboration with other visionary artists. An ardent LGBTQIA+ activist, her influence is chronicled across publications like Harper's Bazaar and Cosmopolitan, as her work resonates far beyond art into advocacy. Her film and art activism stems from a profound commitment to driving enduring change, not solely within the entertainment sphere, but within society at large.
Find out more about her here.
Venue: UUU Art Collective in Rochester, New York
Date: July 8 - September 17
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