Until recently the Arts of the Sikhs had been confused as either Hindu and or Islamic Arts. It is only in the last decade that Arts of the Sikhs has emerged as distinct with unique characteristics of its own. Today the arts of the Sikhs have been widely acknowledged and scores of books have been published. These publications continuously bring to light the unique cultural, historic and religious features of the Sikhs. In the last five centuries, this also brings to a sharp focus on the unique aspects of the religion of the Sikhs. The Sikh Foundation has played a key role in this evolution of Sikh Arts. Through its focus on the promotion of “Sikh Arts” it has provided a leadership role by being the first Sikh organization to support and organize international exclusive exhibits of Sikh Arts. It has an ongoing commitment to support exhibitions, lectures and galleries to promote the heritage of the Sikhs.
Exhibitions & Galleries
Splendors of Punjab Asian Art Museum, San Francisco:
In 1992, the 25th anniversary of the Sikh Foundation was celebrated at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco and the University of California, Berkeley. The first ever exhibition on Sikh Arts, entitled“Splendors of Punjab”, was exhibited at the AAM, with a conference “ Sikh Arts & Literature” at UC Berkeley. This was a landmark event in North America and and though was a small exhibition of works of works from local Sikh collectors but was clearly the tip of the iceberg.
The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms Victoria & Albert Museum, London;
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
With the thought of an international Sikh arts exhibit, Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany, chairman of the Sikh Foundation, approached the Victorian & Albert Museum in London, one of the largest museums in the world, to make the dream of an international exhibit of Sikh art a reality. He had the support of the Asian Art Museum and of Susan Stronge, a curator with the V&A who was also a presenter at the 1992 conference. Furthermore, The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco and the Royal Ontario Museum of Toronto consented to exhibit the Sikh collection. Within a few years, the communities and collectors in the UK, USA, Pakistan, and India had also risen to the occasion, and helped make a fabulous exhibition possible. Susan Stronge’s dedicated curatorship has brought together breathtaking Sikh arts treasures from around the world. Over 500,000 people have seen this exhibition in London, San Francisco and Toronto.
The exhibition opened in London at the world-famous V&A Museum 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. Maharaja Ranjit Singh who ruled for forty years over a secular kingdom which stretched till the borders of Afganistan & Tibet, was a great patron of the arts. The heritage of the Sikhs — the Punjab as a melting pot of arts, philosophies, faiths and races was never more thoroughly expressed than in the Sikh kingdoms where artistic schools of the Mughals, Punjab Hills, Patiala, Kashmir, Persia, Victorian England and continental Europe crafted a dazzling multicultural splendor. Sikhism at its best excluded no one. The exhibition was brought to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco under the sponsorship of the Sikh Foundation and its third and final destination became the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.
Dates & Venues Victoria and Albert Museum, London
March 22-July 22 1999 Asian Art Museum, San Francisco September 22-January 9, 2000 Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto May 27, 2000 – August 2000 In Toronto, the response of this exhibition was beyond imagination as the Canadian Sikh community was able to provide some unique Art objects which were neither available to the exhibition in London and San Francisco. Piety and Splendor: National Museum, New Delhi , Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh. In January, the tour of the ‘Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms’ exhibition to the National Museum of Art in Delhi was postponed at the last moment over cost and loan issues. Professor B. N. Goswamy, Professor Emeritus of Art History, at Chandigarh University, had been appointed to work on the exhibition for Delhi. He now took up the challenge. In six weeks (an exhibition is normally two years work), he put together an alternative, very beautiful and thoughtful exhibition of Sikh art and artifacts available from Indian collections. Since the Golden Throne of Maharajah Ranjit Singh was on its way to Toronto, he had a gold-plated replica made by craftsmen who may well have been the descendents of the first makers. It was visually indistinguishable — if a little thinner on gold. The originals on show were marvelous, often touching and sometimes surprising — a painting of Guru Nanak in a robe with both the Guru Granth Sahib and Qur’an calligraphed upon it, evocations of the Sassi and Punni love tragedy and closely-observed portraits of common people with all their uncommon dignity. In the same miraculous six weeks, a superb coffee table book entitled “Piety & Splendor Sikh Heritage in Art” that matches the Catalog for the Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms in content, design and print quality, was produced. Check out this book in our online shop. So the failure of one exhibition to fulfill its promise in India made it possible for one of Indian’s finest art scholars to put together another spectacular exhibition of Sikh art. All in the year of the 300th anniversary of the Khalsa. We have to feel pleased.
Satinder Kaur Kapany, Gallery of Sikh Art
Asian Art Museum San Francisco On 5th of April 2003, the new Asian Art Museum of San Francisco opened its Satinder Kaur Kapany Gallery. This gallery has been endowed by Dr. Narinder Singh Kapany with a pledge of $500,000 to the Asian Art Museum. Dr. Kapany, also donated to the Museum nearly one hundred works of Sikh art, many from the 18th-19th century court of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, ‘the Lion of the Punjab’. This is the only permanent collection of Sikh Art in a North American museum. Among the donated objects from the Kapany Collection are artworks that belonged to Ranjit Singh, as for example the maharajah’s inlaid sandalwood jewelry box, the signet ring of Ranjit Singh and the jewelry of Maharani Jindan. A series of forty-one paintings illustrating one of the earliest surviving Janam Sakhis, stories of the life of Guru Nanak, was in the Kapany, family for over two hundred years. Before they were donated to the Museum, a number of the Janam Sakhi paintings hung in the prayer room of the Kapany, home. The Kapany, gift also includes some of the most significant portraits of the Gurus. The earliest known painting of the first Sikh Guru is dated c. 1770 and shows Guru Nanak in a style of dress that includes both Hindu and Islamic elements recalling the Guru’s insistence that religious differences are in the mind of man, not of God. A portrait of the ninth Guru from 1670, five years before he was beheaded, is the only surviving image of a Guru painted during his lifetime. A painting of Guru Gobind Singh from c. 1850 creates a handsome Eurasian synthesis of style and perspective.
Who will see it? Why is it important?
The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco has one of the largest collections of Asian art in the Western world. The Museum undertook a $150 million project to move from Golden Gate Park to the old Main Library in the historical district of San Francisco. The Beaux Art-style building under went a deluxe face- and body-lift for the occasion. Gae Ulenti, the Italian architect contracted for the job, soared to international fame in the 1980s with her redesign of the Garde d’Orsay, the old central railway station in Paris. That building has become one of the most visited museums in one of the most visited cities in the world — as much for its stunning and innovative architectural reworking as for its great works of art. The Museum expects its attendance to be somewhere near 450,000/year. Can you imagine all of these people being exposed to Sikhism through the Satinder Kaur Kapany Gallery of Sikh Arts?
The exhibits at this gallery are rotated every six months. To see the current exhibits, click here
Sikhs: Legacy of the Punjab The Smithsonian, Washington D.C.
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 using the objects primarily borrowed from the Kapany Collection of Sikh Art (the most respected body of Sikh Arts in United States as termed by the Smithsonian themselves) Some of the objects were loaned are: “A historic Necklace of Rani Jindan”, “A huge painting of all the ten Gurus”, “A portrait of Maharaja Ranjit Singh on Ivory” and a painting done by Arpana Caur (one of the finest contemporary Sikh artist) “expressing the agony of the persecution during the 1984” anti Sikh pogroms in New Delhi, India. To view pictures and a virtual tour of the exhibition click here. The Sikh Foundation under the leadership of Dr. Kapany aims to establish more permanent Sikh Arts Galleries in the west in addition to the Satinder Kaur Kapany Gallery of Sikh Art at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.
I See No Stranger –Sikh Art & Devotion The Rubin Museum of Art, New York
September 18, 2006 – January 29, 2007 Rubin Museum of Art (RMA), with the support and participation of the Sikh Art and Film Foundation and The Sikh Foundation, put forth an exhibition that brought together works of art that identify coreSikh beliefs and explores the plurality of cultural traditions reflected in both the objects and the ideals. The exhibit comprised of approximately 100 works from the 16th through the 19th centuries, including paintings, drawings, textiles, metalwork, and photographs. Works of art were lent by the Government Museum and Art Gallery, Chandigarh; National Museum, New Delhi; the Sanskriti Museum, New Delhi; the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco; and the collections of Dr. Narinder Kapany, of Palo Alto, along with other individual lenders. To see the detailed program of events click here
Sikhs: The Legacy of the Punjab Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, Santa Barbara
Feb – May 2008
The original Smithsonian exhibit was enhanced with a number of new art works and Sikh paintings, both early 18th century and contemporary. Prominent artists whose works were on display were Arpana Caur, Iswar Singh Chitrakar, Thakar Singh, Sukhpreet Singh, RM Singh, Kewal Soni, Kanwar Singh & Navjit Singh Chhina. The exhibit, very skillfully, weaved together the history, culture and religion of the Sikh People. The original weapons of the period of the Sikh empire, the coins of their sovereignty, the manuscripts of their legends, the textiles and jewels which adorned them all tell their own stories. The Punjabi music which visitors can select to listen to brings the hall alive to the beat of the Dhol and other traditional instruments. The exhibit explored all aspects of the lives of the Sikhs and offered a unique introduction of the Sikhs to the non-Sikh Americans as well.
Annual Lecture Series:
The Sikh Foundation supports an Annual Lecture Series at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. In the past four years, the lectures have been presented by:
- Dr. N.S Kapany & Gurinder Chadha
- Dr. F.S Aijazuddin
- Arpana Caur
- Susan Stronge
Conservation & Restoration Efforts
Guru ki maseet 2000 The Sikh Foundation in collaboration with UNESCO, sponsored the restoration of Guru Ki Maseet, a mosque built by Guru Hargobind Ji in Sri Hargobind Pur, Punjab. The V&A Annual Lecture in 2008 also focused on the “Preservation & Restoration of Sikh Arts, monuments and manuscripts”.
What can you do to contribute towards the appreciation of Sikh Arts? You can enjoy these authentic art pieces at the wall in the lounge of your home or office. Check out our calendars and prints section in our online shop.