Monday, September 18, 2006

Sikh Art @ the Rubin Museum

I've been getting lots of tips today about the early Sikh art exhibit opening today at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. There is a surprisingly effusive review of the exhibit by Holland Cotter up at the New York Times:

But what about Sikhism itself? Few Westerners have even basic information.

How many people are aware that it was conceived as a universalist, open-door religion?

Or that its view of society was radically egalitarian? Or that its holy book, the Adi Granth, far from being a catalog of sectarian dos and don’ts, is a bouquet of poetic songs, blending the fragrances of Hindu ragas, Muslim hymns and Punjabi folk tunes into a music of spiritual astonishment?

This is precisely the information delivered by the small and absolutely beautiful show titled “I See No Stranger: Early Sikh Art and Devotion” at the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea. Vivid but concentrated, it presents, mostly through paintings, a culture’s version of its own origins, the image of history shaped far more by hard work, pluralistic politics and mysticism than by militancy.(link)

All very admirable and correct. The only thing I find a little odd is that the review is less an evaluation of the art in the exhibit than it is a summary of the basic points about Sikhism covered. For Cotter, the art is more a vehicle for acquiring knowledge than beautiful in its own right. Not a great tragedy, perhaps; in fact, even this short article is pretty informative. But still, it might have been interesting to hear more about how or whether this art fits into the broader picture of religious art in the Indian subcontinent during this historical period. (Call me an academic, but the question crossed my mind.)

The other slightly odd moment is this:

The painting is paired in the show with the workshop drawing, produced by a master artist, that served as its model. The contrast is striking. In the drawing the prince, far from being restrained, practically levitates from his saddle with ardor and leans toward Nanak as if drawn to a magnet. Mardana plays and sings with fervor of a contemporary bhangra star. It is in the drawing, rather than in the painting, that the Nanak Effect, so evident in poems and songs, comes through. (link)

Bhangra, huh? Not quite, Cotter-saab. Bhangra is secular, festive, and pro-intoxication. Nothing at all to do with Bhai Mardana. Still, this is a forgivable slip; Holland Cotter is a dedicated art critic, and as far as I can tell this is the first time he's ever written on Sikh-related art.

Incidentally, the Rubin Museum is doing an extensive array of programs to coincide with this show, including Sikh-related film screenings (organized through the Spinning Wheel Film Festival folks) as well as lectures.


uday said...

gotta check Rubin out on my next visit!

Amardeep ji, please change the template sir! Its been the same header for a while now ;)

8:49 AM  
Kym Murphy said...

Hi, Deep. If you'll be coming to the city for the Sikh exhibit at the Rubin, you might also want to stop by Madison Square Park. I eat lunch there just about every day, and this week I was pleasantly suprised to find an outdoor photography exhibit in full swing! It's called "Cities in Transition" and is quite a lovely way to spend a lunch hour. Dayanita Singh is one of the featured photographers, so I thought you might be interested.

I hope all is well... I still have access to my Kam2 email, so stay in touch!

4:23 PM  
meninder said...

the rubin museum is free on friday nights between 7-10pm. i went last friday and really enjoyed the exhibit. i found it extremeley informative. the art itself didnt blow me away by any means. but within the context of telling the story of sikhism, the art serves a complementary role to the book that comes along with the exhibit.

11:21 PM  
Anonymous said...

Namaste , dear Amardeep and please remain an Everlasting Light for a much better education worldwide .Greetings to your entire family and specially sweet Puran - and many thanks for giving the hints to this in fact very interesting exhibition in NYC . I have a few friends over there and will recommend them to visit and see it. I´m a bit jealous that it isn´t happening here in Berlin...Since about two months I became very interested into all what has to do with Sikhism - because I met an adorable Sikh over here - I knew him superficially for about two years before I got to know him a lot better - and beside the Sikh Philosophy which could be a positive example worldwide for peace I also love some of the Bhangra Music (Inderjit Nikku Singh is my favourite - Hai Billo Nee Munda ).Greetings from Germany . Have you been in our weekly "Spiegel" - Magazine recently where there was complaint that many uneducated people confound Sikhs with mullahs because they still can´t see and feel the differences not only between the dresses. Or do there exist many more Amardeep Singh(s) ?
Greetings again , until soon.Su.

5:24 PM  
Amardeep said...

Su, that's a different Amardeep Singh. The one who was in der Spiegel is a lawyer in New York. I am an English professor...

6:25 PM  
Anonymous said...

Sat Sri Akal, dear Amardeep, to you and your family and friends. Thanks for your reply.I wish I could speak/write some more punjabi....and see the exhibition in N.Y.(I love > Alu Gobi < by the way! One of my Pakistanian patients , too )My Indian friend here in Berlin comes from Ludhiana. I was shocked when I read what had happened there in the past, I didn´t know about . I would like to visit this Five-River-Country one of these days, it seems very interesting because there is so much cultural diversity.And a lot of National Parks, too. The Capital Chandighar and Le Corbusier - I didn´t know a thing! I listen to the nice bhangra music and just discovered the official website of Malkit Singh, wow !!! He knows about how to dress and pose very well....and how to break "every women´s heart" ; I suppose :-)Until soon.Su.

12:24 PM  

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