A Miracle in Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum Opens Sikh Art Gallery

Each and every Sikh in the western world has been trying to find ways and means to educate the people of the Sikh history and its universal belief system. A belief in One God, hard and honest work to spend life as a house-holder while sharing blessings with the needy and ongoing reflection upon the Creator are its golden principles. However, their unique identity with an intact beard and turban, a sine-quo-none of the Sikh faith has led to several hate crimes against them in the Western world. A few Sikh organizations such as SALDEF, Sikh Coalition and United Sikhs etc. have been trying hard since 9/11 to seek justice against these crimes through legal channels. Recently National Sikh Campaign based in Washington DC took an alternative approach to educate Americans by over million dollar worth of live and social media campaign.


While this all was going on, Dr. Parvinder Singh Khanuja, a well-established valley oncologist kept quietly pursuing for a period of 8-10 years, a collection of Sikh artifacts and objects, a consequence of influence of his father in his growing years. With the support from his family, hecontinued discussion with Phoenix Art Museum, the largest museum in Arizona, for several years to permanently establish a section for exhibition of the Sikh Asian Art that finally became a reality on April 22nd. Interestingly this museum attracts foot traffic of 300-350k/year, including free visits from school children on Wednesday evenings as well as every 2nd Saturday and Sunday of the month. The opening ceremony was attended by well over 150-200 people, mostly from Sikh community plus others including the Board and Counsel Members from Arizona Interfaith Movement. This 2nd and largest permanent Sikh Art Gallery in N. America occupies 1750 square feet until September 10th and will finally and permanently settle in about 874 square feet. A detailed insight by a very informative talk by Janet Baker, the chief Curator of the museum to the audience was almost akin to class 101 about Sikh faith and Sikh people. This was preceded by an introduction by Amanda Cruz, the CEO of the museum.

The theme of exhibit starts from the Gurus/timeline with comparison to American period. 10 Sikh Gurus are shown in traditional Indian style paintings, along with their teachings and Sikh principles contained in Guru Granth Sahib, the 11th Guru. Construction of Golden Temple and its architect as well as a Hukumnama (proclamation) about Amrit Sanchar ceremony from Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Master is also included. It continuous into the Sikh concept of Miri and Piri i.e. Valor and Virtue or what is commonly known as the lifestyle of a Saint-soldier, initially highlighted by 6th Guru of the Sikhs by wearing two swords which then was taken to its completion by Guru Gobind Singh. Misl period/Khalsa Raj, sword of father of Maharaja Ranjit Singh as well as maps depicting British time Sikh soldiers, Annexation of Maharaja’s vast empire by British Raj and the military presence in India is depicted well. This is followed by involvement of Sikhs in WW I and II.

A section of contemporary images of Sikh diaspora in the West and local gurudwaras were also included in the exhibit. A special snap of Rala Singh’s produce, the first Sikh in the valley in mid-forties was a personal highlight for the author as I have known the man for several years before he passed on in 2003. Likewise Fauja Singh, a 103 years old British Sikh and a well-known marathon runner with multiple gold medals to his credit is also shown carrying Olympic torch in England.

In a discussion with Dr. Khanuja, he revealed his future plan to introduce the collections of more artifacts including paintings, miniature manuscript of Guru Granth Sahib Ji, various swords, medals, helmets, shields, as well as rare religious texts and a large collection of Sikh coins that he possesses and which he obtained from India, U.S.A/ England and Auction houses.

All this happened thanks to his family support. In fact he rightfully honored his parents and his wife’s parents by recognizing them on the top the main wall with bold letters. The Indian community at large and Sikh Community in particular thanks Dr. and Mrs. Parvinder Singh Khanuja for a great service to our community.

Courtesy of www.asiatodayaz.com

Video Courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum – Youtube Channel


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