A Montreal couple introduces Sikh art to a permanent collection at the MMFA

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The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) is launching a new permanent collection of Sikh art in its Arts of a World wing.

Most of the items were donated from the collection of Narinder Singh Kapany, known as the father of fiber optics, with the help of Mandeep Roshi Chadha, a former museum board member who is now vice president of the Board of the National Gallery. from Canada.

“What does it do for our people when they walk through the gallery and see themselves reflected in these elite institutions, in a way? It’s a feeling of pride, it’s a feeling of belonging and it’s a feeling of yes, I’m somebody too,” says Roshi Chadha.

Kapany and his late wife, Satinder, founded the International Sikh Foundation with the aim of showcasing the contributions of Sikh artists, sculptors and architects. Prior to his death in December 2020, his collection was loaned to museums around the world.

A 19th century Sikh painting which is from the Kapany collection. It is now part of the gallery of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. (Christine Guest/MMFA)

He met Roshi Chadha and her husband, Baljit, six years ago in California through the foundation. Kapany asked the Chadhas to find a place for a number of pieces from his collection in Canada after learning of Roshi Chadha’s involvement in the art world, as well as the couple’s own collection of Sikh art.

The Chadhas had previously shared Canada’s art with India, bringing a nine-foot-tall inukshuk in front of the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi along with other Inuit artwork for an exhibition at the National Gallery. -arts of Canada at the National Museum there. .

“This Sikh gallery is an equivalent gallery the other way around,” says Roshi Chadha. “It’s my culture.”

With larger Sikh communities in Vancouver and Toronto, it may come as a surprise that such a large collection has arrived in Montreal. Roshi Chadha is asked a lot why he is here.

Part of the late 17th century Adi Granth script on display at the museum.
Part of the late 17th century Adi Granth script. (Sonali Karnick/CBC)

“Baljit and I have been here: he for 50 years and I for more than 40 years. Montreal is my home and Montreal is in my backyard, so why not Montreal? asks Roshi Chadha. While she and her husband began their career in Montreal, Roshi Chadha is regularly in Ottawa to fulfill his duties at the National Gallery of Canada.

One of the jewels of the collection, offered by the Chadhas, is part of the Adi Granth, considered the earliest scripture of religion, from the late 17th century. Laura Vigo, curator of Asian art at the MMFA, reckons it almost compares to showing part of Gutenberg’s Bible to Christians.

But there are also contemporary pieces among the secular works.

All in one weekend14:02Important collection of Sikh art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts will open a very unique collection this week. It now houses one of the largest collections of Sikh art in North America. We’ll hear from Mandeep Roshi Chadha, who helped run the collection in Montreal, and the MMFA’s curator of Asian art, Laura Vigo.

“We are creating space to support the wide range of artists in Canada and abroad who engage substantively with the pluralistic and open histories, politics and aesthetics of Sikhism,” said Sajdeep Soomal, assistant of research at the museum that helped co-coordinate the acquisitions of the gallery’s contemporary pieces.

Dipti Gupta, who attended the gallery’s official opening last week, said it was “encouraging” to see such respect in Canada for the art of a people who a century ago had been subject to immigration restrictions.

“Finding a space in a museum will allow people to revisit the contribution of Sikh history, art in all its glory,” says Gupta.

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