The long and rich history of Singapore's Sikh community was showcased as a new exhibition that opened at the India Heritage Centre (IHC) this weekend.
The Sikh community's arrival in Singapore to join the Sikh Police Contingent under the British colonial administration at the time can be traced back to the late 19th century. The community firmly established itself here over the years, and its members have long been recognised for their societal contributions as soldiers, policemen, volunteers, athletes and more.
'Sikhs in Singapore – A Story Untold', the IHC’s first-ever exhibition dedicated to Sikh heritage, consists of three parts: Roots, which explores the origins of Singapore’s Sikh community; Settlement, which presents the narratives of Sikh migrants in Singapore, revealing the story of
the nascent original community and some of its prominent members; and Contemporary Perspectives, which offers glimpses into the experiences of contemporary Sikhs, highlighting the ever-evolving Singaporean Sikh identity and the community’s contributions to the nation, an official statement read.
“We are very thankful to Sikh organisations and the community for working closely with us to curate this exhibition that unveils the heritage, culture, arts and personal stories of a strong and resilient community. In times of great need and change, a community’s shared heritage is key, as it acts as an anchor and provides points of reflection,” Maria Bhavani Dass, General Manager of IHC said.
This is IHC’s second community co-created exhibition, and features more than 450 artefacts – the highest number for any special exhibition at IHC to date – from over 50 local and international private collections, institutional collections of 17 Sikh organisations in Singapore, as well as Singapore’s National Collection. Many of the artefacts were sourced from the public during a collection drive held in June 2020, which called for stories, photographs and artefacts from the community’s personal collections.
IHC’s curatorial team also worked closely with the local Sikh community to document and express intangible aspects of their heritage. A highlight is a photographic installation 'Through the Lens', in which local artist-photographer Afiq Omar reimagines the Sikh identity in the context of multicultural Singapore, through a visual juxtaposition of 50 young Sikh adults against iconic Singaporean landscapes.
“Much of the Singaporean-Sikh identity – its history, beliefs and traditions – has been kept alive by being passed down through successive generations of Sikhs. Their contributions are a testament to the community’s generosity and eagerness to tell their stories, and we are greatly appreciative of the insights, stories and personal items they have shared with us to make this exhibition possible," exhibition curator Malvika Agarwal explained.
As part of IHC’s signature student guide programme, students from the Singapore Sikh Education Foundation and Nan Chiau High School will lead their schoolmates on tours of the exhibition.
Visitors to the exhibition will also enjoy a specially-commissioned trilogy of films, titled 'Being Sikh', which present contemporary perspectives on three aspects of Sikh heritage in Singapore – the role of women, tradition and faith. Produced by award-winning local talents, filmmaker Upneet Kaur Nagpal and writer Balli Kaur Jaswal, the series highlights nuances of the unique and layered heritage of Sikhs in Singapore.
The first, 'My Name is Kaur', uses the perspectives of a senior woman who witnessed many important historical events to reiterate the key role played by women as agents of stability and family well-being. The second film, 'Commitment', subtly draws out the nuances of negotiating cultural tradition by younger members of the community, while the third, 'With Folded Hands', takes viewers on a journey of faith and belief.
The exhibition opened on March 27 and will run till September 30, 2021.