Amit and Naroop ( Photo courtesy: http://www.singhproject.com/ )
Their first photographic exhibition titled ‘Sikh Project’ created a stir in the UK not only for its message, but also for the way it was executed. UK-based photographers Amit and Naroop in their 2013 exhibition clicked the photographs of some known and some not so known Sikh community members to show the pride they take in their identity and their unique culture.
Since then the two, who are proud of their Sikh identity, have been written about extensively in the western media for using art as a medium to educate the broader public about the Sikh community and its two important articles of faith – beard and turban.
The two are now partnering with the US-based Sikh Coalition, the largest Sikh American advocacy and community development organisation in the US that works towards the realisation of civil and human rights for all people, particularly Sikhs.
They will soon be clicking the photographs of both turbaned men and women and some iconic Sikh Americans for their ‘Sikh Project’ photo exhibition, which will be unveiled around the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
Excerpts of an interview with Amit and Naroop for the Indian Diaspora by Kavita Bajeli-Datt:
How, when and why the idea of a ‘Sikh Project’ was born?
The idea came about in London in 2013. We noticed men of different backgrounds and ages were growing beards for fashion, as part of their identity. Being Sikh photographers, we wanted to show that in our culture, the beard has been a part of the Sikh identity for hundreds of years.
How do you feel about being part of 'Sikh Project' in the US?
We very excited! In the US it will serve as an educational piece as well as an art project as the awareness of the Sikh identity is still misunderstood, so we hoping it will have a wider impact.
After tasting success in UK, how do you propose to work in the US, which is a new territory for you?
We worked in the US many times, so it is not necessarily new for us. We do want to make sure that the U.S version stands up to the UK Singh Project and if anything is even better than it!
You will be shooting brand new portraits of Sikh Americans for the New York exhibit? What has been the response (of the people) so far?
It has been fantastic! The subjects involved have seen the success we have had, so they are excited to be involved. It's the complete opposite of the UK Singh project as nobody wanted to get involved at first and it took a while for it to build momentum.
Do you think the photographic exhibition will be able to combat bigotry and show the Sikh community in America in a positive light?
Yes definitely. Each one of the subjects has a story to tell, which will sit alongside the portrait. Some are positive, some are more dramatic, but through the stories, visitors of the exhibition will get to learn what it means to be an American Sikh, both in identity but also in spirit.
What was the response in UK to your exhibitions?
Overwhelming! We honestly were blown away by the response. People really appreciated and respected the message as well as the execution. The content and context resonated with people from different backgrounds as it is not just about Sikhs, it's about pride for your identity.
Sikhs around the world have to face racial discrimination because of their beard and turban? Do you think the exhibition will be able to highlight the importance of the beard and the turban to the people at large?
Yes I believe so. An accompanying video interview of each subject will allow visitors of the exhibition to learn more about the way Sikhs are treated, both positively and negatively, and the courage it takes for the subjects to continue to wear their articles of faith.
You are British born photographers of Punjabi origin. Do you think your Indian origins helped you in spreading the message (of what Sikhs represent) to the wider world and do you think you have been successful?
We have also said the project is a fusion of our Sikh heritage and our British upbringing. It is traditional in content but the execution is modern and contemporary. Hopefully this has allowed it to spread to a wider audience. Has it been successful? It's hard to judge. People have to be open to learn and understand other faiths and identities. All we can do is try our best to spread the message. From the response we have had, it appears to have done the job, but there are always more people to reach.
(Kavita Bajeli Datt can be contacted at email@example.com)