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Arts & Culture

Sikh Art Gallery in Norwich showcases works to educate and engage

Sikh Art Gallery in Norwich showcases  works to educate and engage
Courtesy of Sikh Art Gallery
Swaranjit Singh Khalsa (center) and others gather last week to celebrate the ribbon cutting of the Norwich Sikh Art Gallery.

The Sikh Art Gallery in Norwich had a soft launch during the height of the pandemic in just 600 square feet of space. It’s since grown four times that size. Now, Swaranjit Singh Khalsa says, it was time for a big event.

“Friday was an amazing day in the city of Norwich,” said Singh Khalsa, who runs the gallery and is on the city council. “We enjoyed Punjabi food and we did ribbon cutting and we saw the artwork, and I guess everybody learned something.”

The Sikh community in the U.S. numbers an estimated 500,000 people. There are around 2,000 Sikh Americans in Connecticut. Khalsa said the gallery he helped open is all about education as it celebrates Sikhs and Sikhism. Take, for example, the turban he wears.

“I'm a city council member in Norwich, but when I’m walking on the street, a lot of people still don't have that clarity among them. Who I am and where I am from,” Singh Khalsa said. “And everybody should feel proud of who they are about their history. But the thing is, where do you go, where do you find the history? So this is the place you find the history.”

The 1980s were politically volatile years for Sikhs in India. An Indian-government authorized attack on one of the holiest Sikh places of worship led to the assassination of the Indian prime minister, and the subsequent massacre of thousands of Sikhs in India in 1984. Sikhs call that last event a genocide. The U.S. hasn’t recognized it as such, but the state of Connecticut did back in 2018.

Singh Khalsa said there is a lot of pain in his community from that time.

“I'm helping my community get that closure,” he said. “That at least where they live now, where they work now, where they play now, where they contribute now to the society -- that government understands what happened to them.”

Those events are obviously a part of the gallery. But there’s more – from religion and customs to traditions and music.

“We need to make sure there's enough understanding about who we are, where we are from, why we are here, and, while we are here, what are we doing to make our country more better,” Singh Khalsa said.

For now, the museum is open by appointment only.