Sikh Art from the Kapany Collection

Through this richly illustrated book, fifteen leading scholars of Sikhism and art examine the full range of Sikh artistic expression. They assess and interpret the Kapany Collection – a remarkable art resource, using it to introduce Sikh art, ethos, religion, culture and history to a broad audience. This hardcover volume of 320 pages includes 297 full color images and is co-published by the Sikh Foundation and the Smithsonian’s Asian Cultural History Program.

The editors respectfully dedicate this book to the memory of
Satinder Kaur Kapany


“In such an under-studied and under-appreciated field as Sikh art, this beautiful and substantive book is very welcome.  All those interested in South Asian art and culture will benefit from it.”

-Dr. Forrest McGill  Wattis Senior Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art and Director of the Research Institute for Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

“A breathtaking book!”

-Arpana Caur  India’s leading contemporary artist

“George Richmond’s iconic oil on canvas depicting Rani Jind Kaur rubs shoulders with Sukhpreet Singh’s marvellous contemporary scenes of life in Punjab, Watercolours of Sikh Chieftains vie with Alexis Soltykoff’s lithographs, Emily Eden’s classic chromolithographs of Sikh Raj personages are balanced by Punjab’s popular calendar art, ornate weaponry stands side by side with coins from the Sikh period and modern philatelic specimens … the   entire gamut of Narinder Singh’s and Satinder Kaur’s vision is grandly captured by this exquisitely produced volume. I have enjoyed this book immensely. I hope many will avail of   its delights. It entertains and educates.”

-T Sher Singh Founder

“Sikh Art from the Kapany Collection is a rare work in that it unites information on one of the greatest engineers of our time, Narinder Singh Kapany, inventor of the optical fibre, and a richly illustrated and documented study of his collection of Sikh art. This collection is analysed in several specialized chapters on the development of Sikhism, on its various cultural events (from the Golden Temple to the Janamsakhis, ancient and contemporary representations of the ten Gurus, textiles, Nanakshahi coins and postage stamps etc.). There is a captivating study of Maharaja Dalip Singh, another on the martial tradition of the Sikhs. A long and important chapter redefines the contribution of Sikhism to art and to the Punjabi culture since the seventeenth century, contributing to what one day will have to be recognized as the Lahori School of Arts. The introduction by the two compilers of the book and the last chapter on “Transformations of Sikh Art in Museums”, introducing and concluding these studies, make this book a major contribution to the history of art in India. As such, the book is a new starting point for young researchers as well as for any curious minds interested in the history, culture and art of this region.

Sikh Art from the Kapany Collection has its place in all the institutions concerned with the Indian subcontinent, and in the library of every educated person.”

-Jean-Marie Lafont Ph.D. (Lyons 2-Lumière) D.Lit. (Paris 3 – Sorbonne Nouvelle)

“Le Sikh Art from the Kapany Collection est un ouvrage rare en ce sens qu’il unit les témoignages sur l’un des plus grands ingénieurs de notre époque, Narinder Singh Kapany, inventeur de la fibre optique, à une étude richement documentée et illustrée de sa collection d’art sikh. Cette collection donne lieu à plusieurs chapitres spécialisés sur le développement du sikhisme, sur ses manifestations culturelles les plus diverses (du Temple d’or aux Janamsakhis, des représentations des Gourous, anciennes et contemporaines, aux textiles, aux monnaies Nanakshahi et aux timbres postes). On y trouve une attachante étude sur le maharaja Dalip Singh, une autre sur la tradition martiale des Sikhs. Un long et important chapitre redéfinit la contribution du Sikhisme à l’art et à la culture du Pendjab depuis le XVIIème siècle, participant ainsi à la renaissance de ce qu’il faudra un jour reconnaître comme la ‘Lahori School of Arts’. L’introduction par les compilateurs de cet ouvrage et le dernier chapitre sur les « Transformations of Sikh Art in Museums » encadrent ces études pour faire de cet ouvrage une contribution majeure à l’histoire de l’art dans l’Inde du Nord-Ouest. Et ce livre est un nouveau point de départ pour les jeunes chercheurs comme pour tout esprit curieux s’intéressant à cette région du monde.

Ce Sikh Art from the Kapany Collection, un superbe ouvrage magnifiquement illustré, a sa place dans toutes les institutions s’intéressant au sous-continent indien, comme dans la bibliothèque de toute personne cultivée.

-Jean-Marie Lafont
Docteur du 3ème cycle (Etudes grecques. Archéologie)
Docteur d’Etat ès lettres (Histoire moderne. Etudes indiennes)

” This is an indispensable introduction to the rich treasury of Sikh art, beautifully produced and authoritatively documented. I cherish my own personal copy, and made sure our University’s library ordered copies to be available to all of our students. This volume is a gem that should be in every distinguished library of art history.”

-Mark Juergensmeyer
University of California, Santa Barbara


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Title: Sikh Art from the Kapany Collection
Editors: Paul Michael Taylor, Sonia Dhami
Published by: The Sikh Foundation & Smithsonian’s “Asian Cultural History Program”
ISBN: 978-0-9700363-4-6
Price: $85 USD
297 images in full color
320 pages of glossy art paper

Contributing Essays by:

Kiran Kaur Kapany, Dr. Gurinder S. Mann, Dr. Gurnam S. Brard, Dr. Pashaura Singh, Dr. Nirvikar Singh, Dr. Nikky-G. K. -Singh, Dr. Mohinder Singh, Dr. J.M. Lafont, Peter Bance, Navtej Sarna, Jyoti M. Rai, Dr. Henry J. Walker, Dr. Cristin McKnight Sethi, Dr. Mary-A. M. -Lutzker, Dr. Paul M. Taylor


Sikh Art from the Kapany CollectionThe essays are grouped into three sections. Those in the first section “The Collectors and their Vision” seem inseparable from an understanding of the collection. They describe the passion and vision of Narinder and Satinder Kapany, explore Narinder’s own artistic works, and place the couple’s collection within the context of their legacy.

The second section “The Kapany Collection: A Survey of Sikh History and Ethos” sets the stage for Sikh art historical studies and traces the development of the Sikh community from the period of the Sikh Gurus. An examination of the portraits of the Sikh Gurus in the collection notes the historic and stylistic changes from the Mughal-inspired portraits of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to contemporary portraits. A richly detailed study of the unbound set of forty-one Janamsakhi illustrations, donated to San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum, interprets the visual vocabulary and language of these paintings recounting the story of Guru Nanak’s life. A beautiful selection of artwork showing the Harimandir Sahib, colloquially known as the “Golden Temple,” ties in a discussion of this architectural wonder’s history and its spiritual significance.

Sikh Art from the Kapany CollectionFurthermore a wide range of Sikh arms and armor illustrate the transformation of a pacific faith into a martial tradition and the establishment of the Khalsa. The formation of the Punjab kingdom and the Sikh States around the nineteenth century, and their relationship to contemporaneous political entities is closely examined. Critical evaluation of this period’s artworks including miniature ivory portraiture and manuscripts advocate a renewed interest in the “Lahori School of Art” and a greater recognition of its significance within the history of Indian art.

The biography of Maharaja Duleep Singh, who was removed from the Punjab following its annexation to the British Empire in 1849, and his relocation and life in England is sympathetically portrayed and illustrated with magnificent artworks from the collection.

Sikh Art from the Kapany CollectionIn section three “Further Studies in the Kapany Collection” an examination of specific Sikh artworks is undertaken. The numismatic legacy of the Sikh kingdoms is illustrated with silver rupees and copper paisa from the Lahore, Amritsar, and Kashmir mints, alongside “temple tokens” and coins from various historical periods of Sikh rule. The collections Sikh-themed postage stamps from around the world are presented in context to the historical backgrounds at the time of their release. Discussions of phulkari, rumal and other textiles provide meaningful contributions to our understanding of Sikh cultural life and also promote a more inclusive attitude.

Art of contemporary Sikh artists, including Arpana Caur, Devender Singh and Sukhpreet Singh is viewed through the lens of “devotion, work and play” emphasizing the importance of considering their art to be expressions of a deeply personal Sikh faith. Relating the core Sikh value of sewa (service) to the efforts of the Sikh community to preserve and collect Sikh heritage, an examination of the ways in which Sikh art is “transformed” by being exhibited within museums provides a different kind of “further study” and a conclusion to this volume.

Sikh Art from the Kapany Collection

Read the coverage of the book on Sikhchic and Sikhnet and IndiaWest.