- It was on the portrait of the last Sikh king, Maharaja Duleep Singh that gave the two sisters a sizeable reputation
- At first sight, they fell in love with the Indian art of miniature painting
- Amrit and Rabindra, though born and brought up in the west, still hold their motherland to be the source and the image of their works
At a time when the idea of European individualism influenced the art and the philosophy of people, the Singh Twins, as they like to call themselves, worked with their mutual oneness, creating art that was unique and inspiring in nature. With the famous portrait of Maharaja Duleep Singh and the controversial painting depicting the Golden Temple after Operation Blue Star, Amrit and Rabindra Kaur have certainly made a mark in the history of art.
The partition of India led Amrit and Rabindra Kaur’s family to move to London. Talking about their life in Liverpool, where they have continued to live since the age of four, they told Firstpost, “We grew up in a quiet little village and were sent to a Catholic Convent school for its high standards of education, discipline and spiritual grounding. We were the only Indians and non-Christians there, but it didn’t stop us getting involved in the religious life of the school.”
The Christian imagery which is rich in iconography, symbolism, decoration and narrative, ignited their passion for art. They said that it played a huge part in influencing their aesthetic taste and led to their love of Art Nouveau, Renaissance, Pre-Raphaelite and Symbolists art. “As children we spent our spare time drawing fantasy and fairytale images inspired by these art movements,” they added.
Being similar in the physical sense of it is one thing but having the same ideology and passion comes with the kind of baggage most people, let alone artists, are not familiar with carrying. These sisters work on the same painting simultaneously, two at a time, which is as curious an approach as it is must be difficult to execute, says the Firstpost article.
“At school we were first separated in class and then placed in different classrooms, against our will. Later, when we were studying the 20th century Western Art History as part of a BA (Hons) degree in Combined Studies, we were heavily criticised by our art tutors for developing similar styles of work (something that was a natural outcome of our joint love for the Indian miniature tradition rather than any conscious decision on our part to be the same). They felt we were not being individual enough. Which went against the ideal they held and taught about ‘individuality’ being ‘the be all and end all’ of contemporary art,” the twins say.
At the very first sight, they fell in love with the Indian art of miniature painting. “The technical skill, intricate detail and imaginative compositions; their beautiful jewel-like quality with the illuminated gold work, their narrative power; their satire (often used within the social and political themes) and their rich symbolic language, fascinated us,” the Singh Twins said.
But they are disappointed at the receding influence of our traditional art in the modern Indian art. They feel that inspiration need not be looked elsewhere when there are so many indigenous art forms and techniques that are glorious and unique in its own way. “It seemed that India in general no longer valued this art form which was reduced to cheap imitations for the tourist industry,” they iterated.
A painting titled Nineteen Eighty-Four, which shows the Golden Temple after Operation Blue Star, garnered them praise but a fair share of negative reviews, as it was termed ‘violent’ by some. “The feedback to 1984 moved us but it also humbled us because we don’t feel that we had been particularly brave in depicting this event. It is easy to speak out against injustice when you are not in fear of serious repercussions. We sometimes wonder if we lived in Punjab whether we might perhaps have thought twice about creating it?” the twins ask.
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But it was the commission from the National Museum of Scotland on the portrait of the last Sikh king, Maharaja Duleep Singh that gave the two sisters a sizeable reputation. In 2009, the sisters were to draw a portrait of the king with attention focused on the belongings of the Maharaja that were part of the museum’s collection. “We had been fascinated by the tragic story of Maharaja Duleep Singh for many years. It was a dream commission!” say the twins to Firstpost. The portrait was called the ‘Reclamation of the Last Maharaja’ and was regarded positively by most.
Amrit and Rabindra, though born and brought up in the west, still hold their motherland to be the source and the reflection of their works. “Despite living here (in the UK), our lives and our work is a reflection of our cultural values that continue to be inspired by our very Indian traditions,” they say.
– prepared by Ajay Krishna, an intern at NewsGram.