Sikh art, in the wake of the Milwaukee massacre

Sadly, I add this latest post following the August 5 massacre of 6 people who were praying at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The article appears in the August 6, 2012 edition of the

Sikh art and religion in the wake of the August fifth massacre in Wisconsin

Guru Nanak Odyssey by Sikh Artist, Kanwar Singh Dhillon

The Renaissance gave us Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and divine images of Christ and the saints. The works of the masters are beautiful, and they also reveal the essence of Christianity, the abiding love inherent in the faith, as well as the struggles of Christ’s followers. Art speaks the truth, expresses a culture’s values and aspirations. In the wake of the August fifth massacre in which a gunman opened fire and killed six people who were praying at a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, a brief survey of the art of Punjab sheds light on a people about whom some Americans seem confused.

Many know them only by the large turbans they wear. Sikhs, whose religion originates in the culture of Punjab in northwest India, are sometimes mistaken by supporters of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. However, Sikhs are a peaceful and open-minded people who believe in the equality of all, including the equality of women. According to SikhiWiki, a Sikh encyclopedia, the Sikhs also believe in allowing everyone to choose their own spiritual path.

Images by Sikh artist Kanwar Singh Dhillon reflect the Sikhs’ desire to find union with God. A portrait of a guru, walking with staff in hand across India, is reminiscent of Moses walking the desert in search of the Promised Land. While the pursuit of truth is essential to the Sikh, the Sikh faith does not promise that followers will automatically enter heaven or paradise. Rather God welcomes those who carry out righteous actions, live prayerful lives and do good deeds.

Jillian Maas Backman, an author who lives about an hour from Oak Creek, the site of the massacre, knew several of the victims personally and was devastated by the news of the shooting. Backman, who wrote “Beyond the Pews: Breaking with Tradition and Letting Go of Religious Lockdown” suggests that the violence visited upon the Sikh Temple is the result of “dogmatic religious thinking gone bad.” The author, who espouses interreligious dialogue, stated “Our individual faith experiences need not be threatened by alternative worldviews, but rather our experience of God deepens when we become more inclusive in our thinking.” If Backman is right, perhaps the artists can help lead us to peace.

About Mary A. Osborne

Mary A. Osborne is a contributor at Parabola magazine and the author of Alchemy's Daughter and Nonna's Book of Mysteries.
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7 Responses to Sikh art, in the wake of the Milwaukee massacre

  1. Everyone should follow this work flow. Thanks for sharing:)

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  4. Tenders says:

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    • Hi Tenders,
      Glad you found the topic interesting! I’d love to learn more about Sikh art myself. Hopefully another opportunity will arrive so that I an work it into my column as an arts reporter.

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