By Simar Khanna | INDIA CURRENTS |
A music composer. A deputy sheriff. A technology executive. An Eagle Scout.
They sound like every-day Americans but what sets them apart is they are all Sikhs. And that combination is the reason they are subjects in a landmark photo exhibition that originated in New York, appeared at venues across the country and now has landed in Sacramento.
The Sikh Project, featuring portraits of 38 Sikh Americans, is the result of a collaboration between the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group, and British photographers Amit and Naroop (they prefer not to use their last names). Thirty images from the exhibition will be at the California Museum in Sacramento through Jan. 27.
The exhibition was created to raise awareness of the Sikh religion and its members, who remain by and large misunderstood by Americans, said Satjeet Kaur, the Sikh Coalition’s executive director. “We were aiming to change hearts and minds about the Sikh community and paint a truer picture of who the Sikh community is through stories of resilience,” she said.
Sikhs believe in one creator and strive to practice equality, justice and selfless service. Sikhs are prohibited from cutting their hair; hence their physical appearance is easily recognized by their turbans and long beards. Especially in the aftermath of the 9/11 bombings, Sikhs were inaccurately identified as Muslims and faced violent attacks.
The turban is the unifying element of the portraits in the exhibit, including among the nine women featured. Each portrait is accompanied by the subject’s personal story, whether it is facing discrimination, fleeing persecution, or the troubles they have faced in being able to assimilate.
The subjects include Harinder Kaur Khalsa, a former deputy sheriff in Alameda who in 2009 was told she could not wear her turban while in a sheriff’s uniform. After years of advocacy, the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office complied with a state law against workplace discrimination.
Also included is Hansraj Singh of San Jose, a student at University of California, Merced, and an Eagle Scout, an accomplishment held by only 4 percent of Boy Scouts of America.
And then there is Tarandeep Singh Bali, an information technology engineer from Hayward whose fierce gaze hints at his story of persecution and discrimination.
The stories, Kaur said, serve to show Sikhs through a wider lens – beyond the turban and beard.
“The climate we live in today, where there is a lot of misunderstanding amid the rise of xenophobia and hate, we limit understanding of other communities. When you hear stories of a driver, a mayor, a business person, they are all stories you can connect with. Maybe it is something connected to you, something happening in your life,” said Kaur.
The Sikh Project will be at the California Museum through Jan. 27. The museum is at 1020 O St., Sacramento. (916) 653-7524.
To read the full story, go here.
British duo raising funds for ‘The Sikh Project’ book (Asia Samachar, 24 Sept 2016)
Perfect pose (Asia Samachar, 18 Oct 2014)