IT IS a brush with Sikh glory, grandeur, history, tradition, culture.that you will view and feel, as part of ‘The Sikh: An Occidental Romance’, a unique exhibition of the Sikh community by Western artists from the 19th and 20th century. The painstaking effort of the Hubris Foundation, on showcase as part of the exhibition are 80 museum archival replicas by as many as 23 renowned painters from across the world, each work distinct in style, treatment, vision and sensitivity. The exhibition is a work of nine long years, and according to Gautam Srivastava, founder, the Hubris Foundation, the idea was to bring to India and Punjab, a rare portrayal of the Sikh community by Western artists, with the paintings housed in museums, libraries, institutions, colleges, across the world, and the Punjabi and Sikh community here never getting a chance to view this exquisite and extraordinary part of our history.
While Sikhs form a small part of the Indian population, the community is represented on a large canvas by globally renowned artists from France, Austria, America, London, Vienna, Japan, Russia.with one distinct feature visible in all the works – it is with great admiration and respect that the Sikh community is portrayed in the artworks, a sharp contrast to how natives were represented in Western art. The exhibition covers a broad spectrum, as artists of different countries present a glimpse of a long period of time, with the collection in a way a record of Punjab’s history, from about 1838, the time when Punjab was an independent kingdom to about 1855. Each work is a story of the times, the political, social, economic situations and how these impacted the Sikhs and Indians at large.
“The putting together of the exhibition required tremendous research, time, travelling and, of course, a love and understanding of Sikh history, with the attempt being to present a wide spectrum. We had over 200 works, and have presented 80 here, with the foundation collecting works of art from Europe and USA for over 20 years and we are so proud to present ‘Sikhs: an Occidental Romance’ here for the first time, with the vision being to take this exhibition across Punjab,” explains Srivastava, adding that the exhibition would not have been possible without the support of Anant Bir Singh Atari, Gurpreet Singh and Laila Singh Majhitia.
The Sikh: An Occidental Romance presents the most comprehensive collection of western Sikh paintings ever assembled. The artworks include the portrait of battle hardened Ranjit Singh in reverential tranquility by Emily Eden, Edwin Lord Weeks’s iconic painting of the Golden Temple, Rudolf Swoboda’s portrait of a Sikh under commission by Queen Victoria, works by August Schoefft, Sher Singh’s court painter, who painted a credulous Akali ensnared by the thugs of central India, the Russian prince Alexis Soltykoff’s, ‘Ladies of Pleasure’, a rendition of the grandeur of Lahore during the Sikh Empire.Also on display is the work of Charles Harding son of Viscount Harding, the Governor General of India, who painted the infamous Gulab Singh of Kashmir, accused of betraying the Sikh Empire. Soak in the many artistic dimensions of painter Alfred De Dreux, who was commissioned by an Italian General and painted Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s portrait, which was presented to the king of France. Finding a place of pride is the portrait of the charming Prince Duleep Singh by Franz Winter Halter, painted under Queen Victoria’s Commission. The exhibition also displays works of art that depict the Anglo Sikh wars, the charming cities of Amritsar and Lahore, the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, common people on the streets, in bazaars, the railway station, Princess Bamba Collection, ethereal images of the Golden Temple by Edwin Lord Weeks in different times of the day, with the sunlight making the temple shimmer, William Carpenter’s The Akali Tower in Amritsar, exquisite works by the Company School, with the artists using the mediums of both oils and water colours to create many layers, luminosity, intricate details.
“The Hubris Foundation attributes this exhibition to Baba Nanak for having founded the Sikh Community, the Sikhs for having enchanted the western artist and the enchanted western artists for having painted this glorious collection,” sums up Srivastava.
The exhibition is on at the Punjab Kala Bhawan, Sector 16, Chandigarh, from May 21 to 23.