The Taboo of Sikh Art

It seems like that in the old days of India many people were into art, architecture and other creative skills. For whatever reason less and less people seem to be interested in the arts. I remember when I was in second class/grade the teacher asking all the kids: "What is your father", and the kids would pretty much have one of a two answers; "My father is a business man", or "My father is a doctor". Gone are the days of the fine artisans and craftsman. Everyone in their goal for survival, success or wealth have tried to follow some business path that they thought would bring the most money. I’m sure the modernization and globalization played a part in all this, but I don’t think that is the whole picture.

I can only speculate on the reasons for these changes, however there are certain things that I think have discouraged art within the Sikh community. Within many circles of Sikhs any portrayal of the Sikh Gurus in art has been frowned upon. I suspect that this happened as a result of Hindu influences and some people "worshiping" pictures as if they were the Gurus. This same logic of not portraying the Sikh Gurus in art also discourages any visual storytelling of Sikh history. All of the recent animations/cartoon/videos have all avoided showing any of the Gurus. Imagine watching a whole movie about Guru Gobind Singh and never seeing him in it!? I agree that there are issues in how to respectfully and accurately portray the Gurus but that shouldn’t be a reason to not try. I think there can be a balance that can work. One has to look at the positive and potential negative things, and look at the overall picture. I don’t think there is ever a perfect situation, but I think doing nothing or just avoiding the issue can potentially be more of a dis-benefit to Sikhs.

Art is an way of expression and can be very beautiful and inspiring. We should encourage it and support those who are artistic. Art can come in many different forms (not just paintings/pictures). In the times of the Guru’s there were many talented artisans. These days they seem scarce, or at least use that creative energy in other ways.

In spite of all this I think things are changing (slowly). With the new generation of Sikhs and becoming more sophisticated, people seem to be more open to things like art and how they interact with it. I am seeing more people creating beautiful and inspiring art work. The past few years I have seen more Sikh related media in the form of movies, cartoons and animations. I think this is a very positive start.

I really wish that more people who are artistic would share that creativity in some Sikh related area that will help inspire and educate our youth. The youth of today are used to very visual media, and if we as community only have poorly written story books with a couple of pictures, they will likely miss our whole history. It’s no wonder our kids would rather be spider-man than a warrior/saint of the Gurus. We need a revolution of art, well written visual story books, audio stories, cartoons, movies, etc. We need media that is current with the world of today. We need to move away from a fear based mentality which just looks at negatives, and look at what the potential positive things that we could do.

Just because something has the potential to be disrespected/mis-interpreted/etc doesn’t mean that it should be avoided. Everything in life has this potential to go either way! Life is a balancing act in itself! Extremes in either direction can be bad.

Years ago I started the www.SikhPhotos.com gallery to share my photography with the world, and also to help showcase Sikh Artists. Over the years I have discovered more Sikh artists, but the numbers are still so small. We will see what the future holds in this creative area, which has such potential to visually tell many stories for our future generations. As technology expands, the ways to tell these stories will also evolve, and we as Sikhs need to evolve with it.

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