The Legacy of the Sikh Foundation – The Next Twenty Years 1998- 2017 – Part 3
With these two firsts – the display of Sikh Arts at an American museum and the establishment of Sikh Studies Chair at an American university, a new path was laid. This was the beginning of the Foundation’s efforts towards creating a truly inclusive American society and opened a whole new world of possibilities for the Sikh community.
The Sikh Foundation seized upon this opportunity and increased its efforts to further promote, preserve and advance the artistic and academic study of Sikhism at the highest institutions of education and art.
With the idea of an international Sikh arts exhibit, Dr. Kapany, approached curator Susan Stronge at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, one of the largest museums in the world, to make the dream a reality. Marking the tercentenary of the Khalsa, the “Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms” was opened by HRH The Prince of Wales on March 22, 1999. Nearly 300 works of art from a sleekly smithed cannon and turban-shaped helmets of damascened steel to rippling silks, Kashmir shawls, gem-encrusted jewelry, a golden throne, the earliest portraits of the Gurus, and court paintings of Sikh maharajas and noble warriors were displayed. Sikhism at its best excluded no one (Fig. 13 & 14). The exhibition was brought to the Asian Art Museum (Sept. 1999) under the sponsorship of the Sikh Foundation and its third and final destination became the Royal Ontario Museum (Oct. 2000). Over 500,000 people have seen this exhibition in London, San Francisco and Toronto.
The Sikh Foundation was interacting with artists, scholars and authors from around the world, leading to a number of high quality publications. Written and richly illustrated with fascinating art by the Singh Twins, Amrit & Rabindra, the timeless classic- Bindhus Weddings was published in 1999. In the same year, Warrior Saints, The Boy with Long Hair and Baba Ditta’s Turnip were also published.
In 2000, the Sikh Foundation brought out its first annual Sikh Fine Art Calendar, which became an annual tradition and is today in its 16th year. These series showcases both contemporary and older artworks from 17th century onwards from the Kapany Collection and other collectors.
They are regarded as collector’s items and adorn homes and offices all over the world. At this time, efforts were also made in the field of monument conservation. Partnering with UNESCO, the partial restoration of a 16th century mosque built by Guru Hargobind was undertaken (Fig. 15 & 16).
In 2001, the World Trade Center & Pentagon were attacked by aircrafts flown by Al Qaida terrorists. In the aftermath of 9/11, Sikhs became the target of hate crimes all over the country. The previous efforts of the Sikh Foundation became even more relevant and meaningful. The need to educate Americans about our culture, history and religion became a matter of life or death.
In 2003, the Sikh Foundation celebrated its 35th Anniversary with the setting up of the Satinder Kaur Gallery at the Asian Art Museum San Francisco. This is the first and only permanent gallery of Sikh art in the West. The Kapanys gifted 100 pieces of Sikh art including the 18th century Janamsakhi volume from which stemmed the Kapany’s love of art. The opening of the gallery was a moment of pride for the entire Sikh community and generated an appreciation of the Arts towards promoting an understanding of cultures (Fig. 17 & 18).
Already community led efforts were on way with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. for a Sikh exhibit. Since the museum lacked any major Sikh art collections of its own, Dr Kapany readily agreed to loan significant artworks, to form the initial basis of the exhibit. On 24th of July, 2004 The National Museum of Natural History opened the exhibit “Sikhs: “Legacy of the Punjab” showcasing Sikh art and Sikh cultural heritage. This exhibit later travelled to Santa Barbara (2008), Fresno (2012) and Dallas (2015) (Figs. 19 & 20)
The Rubin Museum of Art, with the support of the Sikh Art and Film Foundation and The Sikh Foundation, put forth an exhibition “I See No Stranger” in Sept . 2006. It brought together approximately 100 artworks that identify core Sikh beliefs and explore the plurality of cultural traditions reflected in both the objects and the ideals. This art from the 16th through the 19th centuries, included paintings, drawings, textiles, metalwork, and photographs.
Internationally also the Sikh art scene was gaining vibrancy. At the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, the Sikh Art Lecture series was started in 2005 with Dr. Susan Stronge, Dr. F. Aijazuddin, Arpana Caur, Gurinder Chadha and Dr. N.S Kapany delivering talks on Sikh Arts and heritage. In the same year, a delegation from the Sikh Foundation visited Pakistan. They toured Sikh Heritage sites and met with various officials to discuss and explore ways of working together to preserve and protect Sikh monuments and heritage.
The success of the Kundan Kaur Kapany Chair in Sikh Studies at the UC Santa Barbara (1999) encouraged the Sikh Foundation to foster more programs in other campuses. The Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies – UC Riverside (2006), the Ranjit Singh Sabharwal Chair in Sikh & Punjabi Studies – California State University-East Bay (2007), the Sarbjit Singh Aurora Endowed Chair in Sikh and Punjabi Studies at UC Santa Cruz (2010) were set up by various families with the support of the community and the Sikh Foundation. Recently a Sikh Studies Program was initiated at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley in 2015.
These Chairs create a lasting program that will educate this generation and future generations of students about Sikh culture and contributions. Recent world events illustrate the continued need for increased understanding of Sikh values, traditions, and contributions to the world. Such programs enable faculty and students to explore the culture, religion, history, literature, art, economics, language, politics, and scientific contributions of the Sikh people from their origins in the sixteenth-century Punjab region of India to the present.
Numerous conferences, talks and presentations have been arranged over the years. The MS Kohli Memorial Conference on Sikh Education at Stanford University (March 2015) engaged scholars, museums, schools and Sikh organizations on ways to impact Sikh education. Talks by visiting scholars from the US and abroad have enriched local communities as have other events organized by the Sikh Foundation in the past years.
Our latest publication “Sikh Arts from the Kapany Collection” co-published with the Smithsonian Institute was released on 5th May 2017 during our 50th Anniversary Gala at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. This milestone publication documents the unrivalled Collection of Sikh Art, put together by Satinder Kaur & Narinder Singh Kapany. Deeply inspired by the teachings of the Sikh Gurus, their collection displays the entire range of Sikh artistic expression over its 500 year history, including beautiful portraits of the Sikh Gurus, illustrated manuscripts, spectacular paintings of the Golden Temple, royal arts and treasures of Sikh Maharajas, arms and armaments, coinage, stamps, textiles and contemporary arts.
As we look to the future, there are many unknowns in the field of education and art, especially with the lightning speed of change brought on by evolving technology in both spheres. How will Sikh Studies evolve to take on the challenges of the future? How will the arts appeal to future generations? How can the connection with our past heritage be maintained? These are some of the questions we think about as we celebrate 50 years of the Sikh Foundation and continue in our mission to inspire, educate and engage communities around the world.