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The story of Sikhs in print

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    ACCLAIMED ARTISTS: Amrit and Rabindra Singh           Photo: Gemma Allwood
    ACCLAIMED ARTISTS: Amrit and Rabindra Singh Photo: Gemma Allwood

      ACCLAIMED Wirral artists Amrit and Rabindra Singh are the curators of a new exhibition of Sikh art and heritage that has opened at Liverpool's St George's Hall.

      Sikhs In Print - which opened on St George's Day and can be seen until June 20 - is thought to be the first of its kind in the North West. It features more than 100 images from an archive of thousands the Bidston-based twins have built up since 1990, chronicling the years 1837 to 1937.

      The London-born twins live in Bidston and attended Holt Hill Convent School, Birkenhead, before going onto Liverpool University. It was during studies that their interest in their heritage began and the seeds for the current exhibition were planted.

      Amrit told me: "Part of our post-graduate work was to look into Sikh art, because we're both from the Sikh community, and we were determined to show that we have artistic heritage because we are often thought of as an agricultural community.

      "The Sikhs traditionally come from the North Indian district of Punjab, which was known as the breadbasket of India, and were traditionally farming communities.

      "We spent a year of research in India doing a scholarship around 1990/91 and were interested really in looking at the images of Sikhs both in painting, which was the area my sister was studying while I was looking at the more contemporary images of printed posters and calendars, that kind of thing."

      The twins' work developed into a genuine interest of Sikhs in print, whether it was through posters, postcards, stamps or newspaper articles.

      Amrit continued: "As long as they were illustrated, it was the imagery rather than the text that we were interested in, although the relationship between the two was also fascinating in many ways because it gave a real insight into how Sikhs were perceived by the outside world and how they projected themselves through the various medias.

      "The exhibition is only a selection of the archive built-up of several hundred images and we've tried to give an overview of Sikh history. It starts with the founding of Sikhism, then moves onto the early Kingdom of the Sikhs and then the British Sikh connection during the Raj and then modern-day connections with England and notable figures from India and the Sikh community.

      "It's an overview to do with connecting the identity of Sikhs and history of the British, because there are very strong interconnections between military history, art and culture. It's a fantastic space here at St George's Hall, but the exhibition has its limitations because of the size of the space.

      "It was really a case of using what we thought would be visually interesting and choosing images that would help relate the story of Sikhs. So they had to be relevant, chronological and thematic and we didn't want them to overwhelm the visitors, because it is an introduction to the Sikh faith for those outside it as well as an historical interest."

      To compensate for the fact that the Singhs' collection is vast, the exhibition also includes an audio/visual film show with more images from it.

      Once finished in Liverpool, there are plans to take Sikhs In Print abroad and to make a documentary-style film about it.

      The twins' family came from Punjab in Northern India and left the country in 1947 during a period of unrest. They never went back. The twins were born in London in the 1960s and their work recently brought them the Liverpool Art Award, something which Amrit is immensely proud of.

      "Although we have got recognition on an international platform, there are still areas of contemporary art that are difficult to break into.

      "I think it's usually very difficult for artists to be recognised by their home town, and to get a Liverpool art prize is different to getting a prize from another part of the country."

      See full video of the exhibition launch on our website:

      -By Craig Manning

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