Sandy Khaira (left) and Amarjeet Singh (right) stop for a photo after performing at the Kala Art Exhibition in Surrey. It’s been quite the month for the five-person band, who performed the Canadian national anthem at a Canucks game last week. (Photo: Trevor Beggs)

Art brings Sikh Heritage Month to life in Surrey

Kala-Art Exhibition at Surrey City Hall the first of five events in April

Trevor Beggs, Now-Leader contributor

There is a notion that art is often under-appreciated, and that’s something Jaspreet Kaur set out to change ahead of Sikh Heritage Month.

“Sometimes, art isn’t seen as something legitimate in our community,” said Kaur, who has done her best to quash those notions by helping organize the Kala-Art Exhibition at Surrey City Hall on Sunday (April 1).

The event was one of five being held around the Lower Mainland in April for Sikh Heritage Month.

If art isn’t fully legitimized in the Sikh community, you wouldn’t know it from the response she received.

The exhibition quickly sold out with more than 300 people attending the Sunday event.

“Events like today help make art and these artists legitimate,” Kaur told the Now-Leader during the event. “We have 33 artists that came here today, and just to see the turnout that we got is incredible.”

Visitors were treated to art in the form of paintings, calligraphy, short films, spoken-word poetry and musical performances.

“We wanted to bring the whole community together to express our culture through different mediums,” Kaur added.

A powerful performance came from spoken word poet and writer Paneet Singh. He talked about the undocumented trial of William C. Hopkinson, an Indian police officer who was murdered outside a Vancouver courthouse during the early 20th century.

“It was a nice chance to connect with the community,” said Singh during the event. “But for me, this is a time to just celebrate who we culturally. As a minority, we are constantly justifying ourselves and our position. Events like this give us a chance to highlight our rich, artistic and cultural heritage.”

The marquee musical performance came from the local band Indian Standard Time. If that name sounds familiar, it might be because they performed the Canadian national anthem at Rogers Arena last Thursday night (March 29).

The group was asked to perform on South Asian Appreciation night prior to a match-up between the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks. Performing in front of 18,000 people was a moment band member Sandy Khaira won’t soon forget.

“There were a lot of nerves and countless hours of work leading up to the event, but after we performed it was the ultimate feeling.” he said. “To hear the whole crowd cheering you on after we finished was a feeling I’ll never forget. It was one of the best moments of my life.”

Band member Amarjeet Singh said he hopes their music inspires and enlightens a younger generation of Sikhs in Canada.

“We want to bring forth this classical music for the younger generation,” Singh elaborated. “For us to carry on this tradition in Canada is a huge honour. Performing allows us to keep Sikh culture alive and well in Canada. It’s easy for many Sikhs born in Canada to assimilate with the culture here, so it’s our duty to make sure that our culture continues to be passed down through generations.”

Sunday’s event was the kick-off of Sikh Heritage Month, which was provincially proclaimed by former B.C. premier Christy Clark last April. Four more events, such as Sikh Skills Workshop Day and Sikh Voices in Canada, are planned in Surrey and New Westminster this month.

As the event continues to grow, Kaur hopes to expand Sikh Heritage Month outside of the Lower Mainland’s borders.

“We feel like we have a large population of Sikhs in Surrey, so many of the events are here,” she said, “but we would love to collaborate with other Sikh communities in the province – say like somewhere in Prince George – so that we can continue to grow Sikh Heritage Month.”

Visit eventbrite.ca and search Sikh Heritage Month BC for more information about upcoming events.

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(A father and his daughter enjoy some art on display at Surrey City Hall on April 1 during the first of five events for Sikh Heritage Month. Photo: Trevor Beggs)

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