Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Turbans and Tales: A Visual Take on the Modern Sikh Identity

By Petrina D’Souza, 11 Apr, 2019

    Award-winning photography and film duo Amit Amin and Naroop Jhooti’s best-selling book showcases the varying ways the turban and beard are worn by modern Sikhs.



    On January 24, 2019, award-winning photography and film duo Amit Amin and Naroop Jhooti launched Turbans and Tales, a book that includes 74 portraits displaying the varying ways the turban and beard are worn by modern Sikhs. Turbans and Tales chronicles the Sikh Project, a photography programme that showcases the Sikh identity.

    It all began in 2013 when UK-based Amrit and Naroop were looking for a personal project that could differentiate them from other creatives and also reflect their Indian roots. One day, while in East London, they began to notice that long beards were becoming hugely popular with men of different races and ages. “This got us thinking. Clearly these men wanted to stand out from the crowd. They wanted their identity to be noticed. One of the many reasons Sikhs adopted a turban and beard was to also stand out. To be seen as followers of a different path,” recalls Naroop. The duo thought, “why not do a project that shows how modern Sikh wear their beards and also their turbans, but photograph it in a way that reflects our Western photographic style.” Hence, the Sikh Project was born.

    Over a period of four years, Amit and Naroop photographed boxers, army captains, doctors, bikers, fashion stylists, musicians, temple volunteers, magicians and Sikhs from a host of other occupations. They sought out individuals – men, women and children – with inspiring stories to tell, as well as a unique approach to wearing their traditional articles of faith. They photographed 34 UK Sikhs and 36 US Sikhs and held exhibitions in London and New York. The portraits showcase the modern Sikh identity in all its beauty and diversity.

    “We chose the Sikh identity as the theme of the project as it is reflective of our heritage, however the message of the project is universal. Identity and diversity should be embraced, celebrate and championed. No matter that you look like you should be proud and not let it pigeonhole you,” asserts Amit, further stating that the project played a prominent role in breaking down stereotypes in America. “In the UK, the Sikh identity is widely understood and accepted as part of British culture. Taking the project to America, there was definitely a more educational angle on it. Post 9/11, Sikhs were increasing facing abuse by the negative portrayal of the turban and beard pushed on the public by the media. The project definitely played a part in trying to help correct this.” 

    Eventually, the talented photographers decided to convert the exhibition into a book. “With exhibitions, the number of people that physically get to experience the portraits and the stories are limited. With a book however, there is not time limit of when and where you can see the images and the project can be shared with others,” shares Naroop. Turbans and Tales contains 74 portraits with accompanying stories of the relationship each subject has with their identity. “We have also written a detailed opening chapter on the history of the turban, from its origins to how Sikhs eventually adopted it,” adds Amit.

    Amit and Naroop believe that the book is a simple reflection of the growth and social integration of the Sikh community. “With the variety of subjects we have in the book, it definitely shows that Sikhs are not limited in terms of what occupations they can pursue. We have magicians, police officers, creative directors, musicians, politicians, poets and more featured in the book. We’re not saying that things are perfect, and there is still a way to go before the prejudice Sikhs face totally disappears, but there has been significant progress. 

    Turbans and Tales can be purchased on Amazon. To learn more about the book, visit turbansandtales.com

    Images by Amit Amin and Naroop Jhooti


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