Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I See No Stranger
"I see no stranger" is the title of an art show and a quote from Guru Nanak, the founder of the religion of Sikhism. He's sitting under a tree with a book of hymns under his arm while a musician tunes up and a prince has come on horseback to pay him homage. Never heard of him? Never heard of Sikhism? ... Maybe you've seen Sikhs -- the Indian men with turbans and often luxurious handlebar mustaches. Remeber the Sikh medic in THE ENGLISH PATIENT? I went to an art show about Sikhism at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan art last night.
I can say I was aware of Sikhism, certainly of the Sikhs here in NYC and that I saw in India -- I even wrote a Sikh taxi driver role in a play once and the conscientious actor [Italian] found a Sikh and learned to wrap a turban properly. From novels and nearly forgotten reading I knew their founder was call "Guru". That was it. Very little. Now I know just a little bit more. Briefly; in approximately 1500 Guru Nanak announced all men are the same, none should be strangers to another; no real division exists between Hindus and Muslims -- as there was in India [specifically Kashmir] at the time. The Guru wandered the length and breadth of India including Sri Lanka and into Pakistan [which was then India] and Afghanistan with a message of univerality; he shared his message by singing devotional songs he wrote. It was a time of much religious fervor in the subcontinent and his message resonated with many, Nine subsequent gurus followed. The 10th announced that hencefore the Guru would be the book of writings -- not a book of do's and don't but a book of universal praise.
That's it. The religion evolved and got more complicated -- as tends to happen. A some point the men stopped cutting their hair and began wearing turbans to keep it out of the way and taking the last name Singh which means lion. Women took a name meaning Princess. Painters, in the Indian classical fashion painted episodes in Guru Nanak's life and in the lives of future Gurus. The most interesting part of the art exhibit to me was sketches in ink drawn before the paintings were made; they were far more animated and three dimensional -- these artists didn't have to paint in the traditional way; they understood realism but chose tradition. Also shown were some late drawings of workers at various trades; these were truely portraitsl which I liked very much especially a bare chested "tracker" and his stocky middle aged female companion.
The exhibiton had some beautiful textiles, weavings and rugs. The opening was made more delightful by the embroidered jackets and other attire of the women present. Also it was good to see the show with Gary who looks carefully and thoughtfully at things that are new to him ... a talent reallly. I can get overwhelmed by my ignorance of a style, especially one that is relatively stuff, and then stop looking -- and I'm easily distracted by people watching.
So that is a little bit of information -- one of the reasons to live in NYC ... this is just one of the many things on public display -- this relatively new, private musuem mostly houses Tibetan art. It's very near where I work and I should visit it a bit more than I do. I have gone to some fascinating lectures there. They also had a series of lessons on Tibetan applique which was then put on a quilt; but that was during my woriking hours.
I have to mention that at one exhibit of Tibetan artifacts they had a large robe that was made ENTIRELY of kingfisher feathers woven in some manner I could not understand, so that it appeared to be a a textile like a complicated satin!! The utter simplicity was breath taking ... more so than Montezuma's feathered robes [I saw one or two in Vienna, of all places] where you know immediately they are feathers. We have magnificent textiles today but people in the past also became great craftspeople working in astonishing textiles.
I am going to add one of the butterfly postcards at the bottom of this -- it's got nothing to do with Sikhism but leads in a way into the previous [i.e., now following] comment.