Cultural Spotlight – Sovereign Elevations: artful engineering

With bold strokes of colour, a touch of perspective and her expertise of visualization, Vancouver-based artist, author and engineer Kiranjot Kaur is redefining artistic mediums and celebrating Sikh culture through her Sovereign Elevations art exhibit.

“Creating art is like communicating in my own personal language, but one that others can experience through their visual interpretation,” says Kaur.

The exhibit, hosted by Place des Arts, will take place Sept. 3 to Oct. 30, 2021 in person at the Leonore Peyton Salon in Heritage Square, Coquitlam, and is also available virtually on their website. Regardless, spectators will be able to view Kaur’s artwork, a thoughtful and unlike-any-other collection of acrylic portraits.

Folding fabrics and tradition

For Kiranjot Kaur, turbans reflect the personality of the wearer | Photo courtesy of Kiranjot Kaur

Growing up in her family fabric store, Kaur saw many dastaars and she was always enamoured with them, specifically with their many styles, colours and unique qualities that varied with each wearer. Dastaars, also known as turbans, were once only worn by kings and upperclassmen, and this resulted in a movement that fought for equality. Sikh gurus and followers began to don the dastaars to show that they too could wear them and be sovereigns, despite their social rank.

Dastaars are often seen as accessories or hats, but not to Kaur. She feels they are a part of the wearer, a visual and key representation of their identity and character. She believes dastaars are a celebration of heritage and lineage that shows conviction to stand out and that they are a symbol of equality and rights for all. Dastaars are not mere headdresses worn on special occasions: they tell a story of Sikh culture and the wearer themself. This is what Kaur invites people to consider and reflect upon when viewing her portraits. She also invites people to come feel a sense of community through her portraits, to perhaps learn something new and gain a deeper understanding of Sikh traditions.

Kaur also stresses the importance of incorporating culture into art.

“I think that representations of culture through the use of art are needed to document our histories, traditions and beliefs. Art can convey aspects of culture that may otherwise be intangible and give a voice to the vibration of a commuity,” Kaur reflects.

Artful engineering

Dastaars are not merely headdresses. | Photo courtesy of Kiranjot Kaur

In Kaur’s portraits, the illusion of a person wearing the dastaar is shown despite there being no actual wearer. Similar to elevation drawings, a simplified drawing style used by civil engineers as a tool for visualization, her portraits take advantage of how easily recognizable and unique dastaars are and present them with a variety of perspectives. Kaur hopes that by drawing her portraits this way, the idea of how dastaars are a key component to one’s identity will be as blatant to the viewer as it is to her.

“Because they are so recognizable and unique to the wearer, I really feel that these representations are portraits of the wearer in themselves,” she says.

While creating the exhibit, Kaur felt proud to be able to represent an aspect of not only her heritage, but also of Canadians’, seeing how Sikhs have a rich and long history in Canada. To her, it felt like a celebration of her community and one that she was excited to make.

Kaur is proud of all the pieces in her collection, but if she had to choose a favourite it would be Ful 1. She adores the vibrant floral design and the bold, unapologetic attitude of the wearer.

To this day, Kaur has created a handful of stunning collections, written her second book, spoken at numerous events and has built quite a beautiful and impressive portfolio. With her Sovereign Elevations art exhibit, Kaur will present something entirely unique to the community and she looks forward to creating more exhibitions in the future.

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