Being Punjabi: Exhibition shares inclusive stories of struggle and success

A shot from Being Punjabi: Unfolding the Surrey Story.

celebration of Surrey’s dynamic cultural diversity and an interactive demonstration of resilience and success, Being Punjabi: Unfolding the Surrey Story will be on display at the Museum of Surrey from Oct. 2, 2019 to Feb. 23, 2020.

As the Museum of Surrey’s first community curated exhibition, Being Punjabi: Unfolding the Surrey Story strives to connect people and communities through collective stories shared via various media installations. Collected and decided upon by an eight-person advisory committee comprised of local members of Surrey’s Punjabi community, the exhibit’s installations range from written word text-panels by notable Punjabi community leaders to audio clips showcasing the current Punjabi music scene in Surrey.

Through not only historical facts but also personal anecdotes and tales, the exhibit unveils an inclusive story of the past, present and future of Punjabis in Surrey, sharing voices and stories of some of the 100,000 Punjabis who call Surrey home. The exhibit seeks to tribute this community while initiating a conversation on questions of identity, diversity and acceptance and evoke a knowledge-seeking experience.

Being Punjabi: Unfolding the Surrey Story follows the path of the Royal BC Museum’s Punjabi Canadian Legacy Project, founded by Satwinder Kaur Bains, PhD, director of the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley.

“Our hope is that Being Punjabi: Unfolding the Surrey Story will serve as a bridge to unite Surrey’s diverse communities and encourage new visitors to participate. This is the first feature cultural exhibit of many,” says Lynn Adam Saffery, Manager of the Museum of Surrey, in a written text panel available to been seen at the exhibit.

A call to challenge assumptions

The goal is to teach people something they didn’t know before, to dispel stereotypes and mostly to connect people and make them feel closer together,” says Colleen Sharpe, curator of exhibits at the Museum of Surrey. Sharpe worked closely with an advisory committee of community members and museum staff in the decision of which topics, themes, and overall content were included in the exhibit.

“When you hear other peoples’ stories, you resonate with many parts of them. You may not have exactly the same story, but you may understand the key aspects,” says Sharpe.

With all topics deemed culturally significant by the advisory team of local community members, the exhibit showcases a diverse assortment of text panels, audio snippets, and artworks. Text panels will be bilingually featured in both English and Punjabi, written in Gurmukhī and Shahmukhi scripts.

Community members contributed all of the 150 objects in the exhibit’s collection, except four pieces borrowed from institutions and the Museum of Surrey’s collection, in an attempt to share their stories through these pieces. No objects were refused.

The exhibit’s artworks, including an installation piece, sculpture pieces, photographs leant by families and paintings, highlight Surrey artists and their histories. Additionally, interviews with community members will play on four televisions throughout the exhibit, with interviewees speaking on what Surrey means to them and their lives and experiences as Punjabis in Surrey.

“We really wanted to offer people different ways to see things. We’re trying to tell a comprehensive story,” said Sharpe, emphasizing the diversity and variety of the exhibit’s collection.

To celebrate the opening of the new exhibit, a family-friendly grand opening will take place on Oct. 6 the Museum of Surrey and a 19+ Museum After Dark event will take place on Oct. 10 where Sharpe will lead guests through a guided tour of the exhibit as they snack on Punjabi appetizers and enjoy Bhangra performances and free henna applications.

For more information on the exhibit and upcoming events, visit