Sat Sri Akal. 

That is the theme of Sikh Heritage Month BC this year, welcoming folks back after a pause from events due to the pandemic. 

Sikh Heritage BC’s immersive art installation, Sacha Ghar - True Home, was held this past weekend in Surrey, inviting visitors to experience nostalgia of their homes, and “connect with the words of Oneness.”

Before entering the exhibit, guests were asked to reflect on what “home” means to them. 

As I entered the exhibit, I couldn’t help but feel emotional—seeing all of the familiar items that provided me with a sense of home that I had unknowingly lost connection with.  

The manja (mattress) in the courtyard with Indian newspapers, the colourful embroidery on the carpets or pillowcases, the steel cups, Punjabi calendars and newspapers, the gardening tools, or the Hukamnama (hymn from the Guru Granth Sahib) that was revealed at the end of the exhibit—it all transported me back to Punjab, a place I haven’t been in decades, giving me a sense of comfort and safety. 

The journey through the exhibit is rooted in the teachings of the gurus, with each different “room’ having a different prompt.

The exhibit, curated by Imroze Singh, featured artists from B.C. including Guntaj Deep Singh, Gurjap Kaur, Binaypal Ghuman, Gurpreet Kaur Birk, and Raman Samra. 

“We were talking with the artists and we asked them, what is nostalgia for them?” said Sikh Heritage BC’s art director and curator Imroze Singh.

Many of the artists drew inspiration from aspects of their childhood. 

“That's where we also see nostalgia coming in, and so coming back to the theme, the homecoming of this year, we realized that it's all about finding the connection with the oneness.”

Upon entering the room where the exhibit was being held, the first thing you see is the vehda (the front courtyard of a home in Punjab), followed by the living room, which felt so familiar.

You then move into the nature room, which is set in an outdoor garden with elements of farming, that again, reminded me of Punjab.

We then enter the bedroom, which has a mixture of elements that a young Sikh kid growing up in Canada would likely have in their room. You see Harry Potter books alongside books about Sikhi, Hello Kitty figurines alongside pictures of the Gurus.

Lastly, you are taken to the final room, which resembles the kitchen of my nani’s house growing up. You see the steel cups, Punjabi newspaper, white doileys under a plastic table cloth, and a cup for chaa.

Then, the Hukamnama is revealed on the projection screen and you are given a moment to pause and reflect.

“Previously, we have done traditional exhibitions, talks and panels, but this year we were thinking, how do we move beyond that and get more community involved?” said Singh.

“Our goal here was to give the knowledge the way our gurus did, and it's up to the people to process it, and find some sort of connection. So this is where we have ‘True Home.’”

Sikh Heritage BC was created in 2018, and in five years, the organization has grown into a bigger hub for community engagement and organizing.

“I've been involved since the very start since 2018. We're a bunch of university students that just decided to come together and do something, we never really understood how big this would grow,” said Jasleen Sidhu, director of education with Sikh Heritage BC.

“With Sikh Heritage Month, we're trying to bring in people from all walks of life, we're trying to bring in the Sikh community, but also the communities that live around us,” said Sidhu.

For young, second generation Sikhs, the exhibit is a way to remain connected to their roots and learn more about their heritage.

“I think this True Home exhibit shows you exactly how different people from different walks of life can come together and create something so wonderful,” said Sidhu.

Sikh Heritage also hosted a panel for the True Home exhibit entitled “Co-creating Sikh-Panjabi spaces through creative storytelling,” which is available to view online.

There are a number of other events planned out for the rest of the month, including the Gobind Sarvar Art Fair & Paint Night on April 15, #AskCanadianSikhs panel Supporting Afghan Sikhs on April 23, a Youth and Family Darbar on April 24, and a Sakhi Sikhia Children’s Program on April 30. There will also be a Gurdwara Tour and Shastar Exhibit on April 30.

“The Gurdwara tours definitely cater to the non-Sikh community. We want to welcome everyone in because the Gurdwara is a place where anyone can come in, and everyone is welcome,” said Sidhu.

 “Sometimes there is a little bit of hesitancy because you don't know what you should do, what you should not do, what can you expect?”

For Sikh Heritage BC, bringing the community back together and providing a place for teaching and learning has been deeply aligned with the principles of Sikhi.

“COVID kind of threw us off a little bit. This is our welcome back,” said Sidhu.

About the author

Rumneek Johal

Rumneek is a journalist, host and speaker. She is currently the BC Reporter at Press Progress where she focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism. Her previous work centers on asking tough questions within her community, starting conversation and chipping away at the status quo. Other focus areas for her work include the South Asian community, arts and culture, pop culture, and more. She is a proud Punjabi woman from Surrey, BC.

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