Mis(Interpretation): Exhibition looks at Sikhism from a feminist perspective

Suvi Bains

One of the photos by UFV alumna Suvi Bains that will be on display at the (Mis)Interpretation exhibit. Copyright: Suvi Bains

Several Fraser Valley women are sharing how they reconcile what at times feels like leading a double life. A special exhibition that opened on September 29 at the University of the Fraser Valley’s Abbotsford campus looks at how Sikh women’s Sikh identity is integral to their feminist world view.

(Mis)Interpretation — Sikh Feminisms in Representations, Texts, and Lived Realities, is a multimedia exhibition that will feature the photographs and video of local artists Suvi Bains and Rishma Johal, the analysis of Sikh scholar Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, and perspectives of eight local Sikh women.

Dr. Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh of Colby College in Maine will present the keynote address at the exhibit opening reception on Sept 29. She has published extensively in the field of Sikhism, including The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent, The Name of My Beloved: Verses of the Sikh Gurus, and Metaphysics and Physics of the Guru Granth Sahib. She has lectured widely in North America and further abroad.

Suvi Bains, who graduated from UFV’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program in 2014, will show her photographic interpretations of the five sacred articles of the Sikh faith: the kesh (uncut hair), the kangha (a wooden comb), the kara (a metal bracelet), the kachera (specific style of undergarments), and the kirpan (a curved sword).

“The integration of Sikhism and feminism is a very nascent area of discourse,” says Satwinder Bains, director of the UFV Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies, which is presenting the exhibition. “This project is a local response to our communities about what it is like to live as South Asian Sikh women in what can sometimes feel like double lives. We have our conscious, daily interactions in mainstream society, and also our subconscious, through which religion, community, gender, and race shape our identity.

“We wanted to create this venue and space as a place to have a safe discussion, challenge notions of femininity and feminism, and look at how different generations interpret Sikh identity. We hope to inspire some ‘Aha!’ moments and spark dialogue. Sikh feminist thought is a small field, and we want to contribute to it.”

Sharanjit Sandhra, coordinator of the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies, adds that the time has come for Sikh women to add their perspective on interpretations of the Sikh holy scriptures (Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji).

“This show will reflect our norm, our lived reality. Traditionally, most interpretations of the Sikh faith have been very male-centric. Traditionally the holy scriptures were interpreted by men because women were not educated, or permitted access to them. But the scriptures belong to all of us, and we have our own thoughts and feelings about how to live according them.”

Eight local Sikh women agreed to take photos of their daily lives as an illustration of what it is to be a contemporary feminist Sikh woman in British Columbia today, interpreting what living as a Sikh means to them. Several of them are UFV employees, including both Bains and Sandhra.

Navneet Sidhu, Harmanjot Bassi, Kulwant Gill, Meena Bolla, Charnjit Sangha and Inderjit Singh will join Bains and Sandhra in sharing their interpretations.

“As a Sikh feminist much of what Sikhism means to me is informed by what the women in my life have taught me from a young age. Being a Sikh allows me to connect my culture, language and values with the work that I am pursuing in my community and to appreciate the crucial role Sikh women play in the lives of their families,” notes Bolla.

The public is welcome to attend the (Mis)Interpretations opening reception and keynote address at 5 pm on Tues, Sept 29 at the UFV S’eliyemetaxwtexw Gallery (Room B136) on the Abbotsford campus.

The exhibit will continue during regular gallery hours until Oct 20.

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