Charlie Taplin, ink and paint pen on Turban cloth

STANDING UP, STANDING OUT

Aimee Crathern, Chris Dyke, Jianna Georgiou, Dougie Jacobssen, Megan long, Hannah Mexted, Giorgio Mouzakitis, Charlie Taplin, Supporting artists: Ellen Schlobohm, Emmaline Zanelli, Daniel Connell

Nexus Gallery, 31 May — 13 July 2018, Kerry Packer Civic Gallery 28 May — 13 June

Standing Up, Standing Out brought together the Tutti and Sikh community to engage in cultural discourse. The Sikhs gifted the artists with one of their sacred objects, the turban and in return the artists embellished the cloth with what is sacred to them, their art. These turbans have emerged as new shared objects that bypass cultural differences and unite rather than define.

Accompanying these works are a series of portraits by artist Emmaline Zanelli. These images highlight the beauty and artistry of each turban and capture the growing relationship between these two communities.

Recognition And Identity

Essay by Daniel Connell

In 1699 at the time of the Vaisakhi harvest festival in Anandpur Sahib, Punjab, India, Guru Gobind Singh the tenth and last of the Sikh Gurus in human form, used the festival moment to gather people together and ignite a new spirit of courage and commitment to human rights. The people gathered had been worn to despair by continuous conflict over who would control the strategic and fertile area of Punjab (the land of the five rivers) and beyond. Persecution and enforced social inequality, invasions and horrifying bloodshed had wracked the population of North India, for centuries. A stand had to be taken. The Sikh philosophy or Sikhi, had emerged as one which championed people and all life, as sovereign entities united by a common universal force. Successive oppressive regimes had denied rights to religious minorities, lower caste and women. Sikhi was a movement which challenged this and this moment in history was a flash point.

Guru Gobind Singh himself was a man of many cultures. He had witnessed the execution of his father Guru Tegh Bahadur in 1675 who stood up for the Kashmiri Hindus, who were being persecuted by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. Guru Gobind Singh was born in Bihar in the Eastern part of India far from Punjab, his closest companions were Muslims and Hindus and he died in central India. But what he did that day was the defining moment of the Sikh identity and had a resounding impact for North India and the world.

Guru Gobind Singh installed the wearing of the Sikh Turban (Dastaar / Puggaree) as an outward sign of identity for Sikhs: men, women and children equally were invited to stand up and stand out by wearing one, to defy the divisive ruling that only nobility could wear a turban; to defy the divisive ruling that only one form of religion could be practiced and to defy the crippling practices of caste discrimination.

The Sikh Turban was intended from its birth to be worn as a symbol of defiance against caste, race, gender and religious discrimination; standing up and standing out.

The Sikh Turban continues today, to be worn for many reasons, layered with the complexity of generations, diverse cultures, translocation and personal decisions, but at its core it remains that symbol of rebellion and the sign of personal and communal freedom.

Every time a Sikh man or woman ties a turban and steps into the streets of Adelaide, or anywhere else around the world, they make a conscious choice to honour this right not only of Sikhs but all life, to stand out in a crowd, come what may. This is an act of resistance to those who would try to prescribe a standard way of being. Social normative behaviours are drilled into the average member of society in the unforgettable years of exclusion and judgement we call the teen years. They taught us well: conform or suffer. For those whose appearance or actions, in gesture or word, breach the well patrolled boundaries of normalised attraction and the ‘desirable’, life can be fraught with painful exclusion and scarring harassment. Overt teenage name calling in the form of racism or ridicule often gives way in adulthood to a re-formed, more acceptable form of discrimination: micro-discriminations: patronisation, ignoring — ‘mansplaining’ in all its forms. These less noticeable manifestations of prejudice in the workplace and public places, are harder to combat but no less prohibitive and has the effect of cumulative trauma, for those who are continually experience it. A Sikh friend who works for a large Federal Government department in Sydney, was as recently as last year transferred to a new office in Western Sydney, his colleague assigned to sit next to him complained loudly that he didn’t want to ‘sit next to a terrorist’. A woman friend who is smaller in stature than most, has had her head patted one too many times: ‘I don’t forgive them, no.’ she said. ‘It is not ok and they need to know that.’

What we are talking of here is how human communities respond to encountering the unfamiliar — the Other. Persecution, inclusion, exclusion, rebellion is what Standing Up, Standing Out is foregrounding. It is the response of two different communities who stand out.

The arts operates centrally within this space of encounter with the unfamiliar without the didactic of teaching and explaining. The arts teach us to approach the unfamiliar without fear; give us the language to talk about things that are unusual to us, with respect. The arts give us the permission to be curious and most of all to advocate for the unfamiliar. The arts say unfamiliar things are allowed to exist in his world for their own sake. The exhibition is not about racism or discrimination, it is about so much more, and that is the speciality of the arts. They are never a campaign alone, but a mix of wonder and challenge and something else.

Tutti Arts has for 20 years challenged the categorisation of the ‘community arts’ sector as being a poor cousin to mainstream art, by being an arts industry innovator across all genres. Tutti Artists are at home, performing and exhibiting in the stages and galleries of the highest calibre. However most significantly, Tutti demonstrates constantly, perhaps more than others that art has to be, must be, a space of hospitality for every diverse idea, expression and vision. Without radical hospitality, the arts dies. It becomes elite product making.

This project Standing Up, Standing Out, is a clear example of the innovative initiatives of Tutti. Growing from a meeting with Hip Hop singers L-FRESH The LION and Mirrah, the seed was planted in the fertile garden of Tutti to create a project which brought these obviously and not so obviously aligned communities together: the Sikh community who choose to stand out and people living with an idiosyncrasy or two, which gives them no choice but to stand out. The turban became the mediating object; the textile, tactile woven fabric binding individuals and communities in solidarity, as it was intended. It was suggested early that the skills of Tutti Visual Artists could be the wordless expression of exchange and solidarity.

The initial meeting saw five members of the Sikh community, (some of whom had driven access cabs and transported the Tutti Artists), come to meet the Tutti community in the studios at Brighton. It allowed for a discussion and some Turban tying. A phrase often placed prominently in Sikh Gurdwaras around the world is: ‘Truth is high but higher still is truthful living’. The concept within this, roughly translated as actions speak louder than words, also highlights the value of honesty in Sikhi. This ‘truth-telling’ was uppermost in the refreshing honesty of the discussion which transpired. For example when God was mentioned, an artist asked; ‘but what if you don’t believe in God?’. A perfect question, shattering the accepted norms of intercultural engagement with honest, courage, being the voice for inclusion. The word God can be a trigger from some who have experienced oppression of patriarchy, religion or culture. How should we explain the importance of belief in a universal force? During the explanation of the Sikh articles of faith, worn as reminders to do good, the obvious but less asked question came, ‘But what if we do bad things?’, again shattering the romantic notions that religious attire equals sanctity. ‘Doing bad’ is a thing we all face. Indeed such uncomfortable honesty draws attention to the healthy distance the Tutti Artists are able to get from what critical theorist Judith Butler describes as the performance of identity. What can this interaction between two groups, who build their lives defined by strong outward visible identity markers, teach the wider community about honesty in identity, about standing out? How do we embrace difference and vulnerability in self and others?

A true and honest meeting had begun this project and more were to emerge, when the Tutti Artists visited the Sikh Gurdwara at Allenby Gardens. The Tutti Artists had spent weeks working on the fabric turbans after the initial meeting with full sense of sacredness for this head covering. The Sikh community had visited Tutti so now it was necessary for Tutti to visit the Sikh community. The spontaneity and unrehearsed nature of this visit allowed the Gianni (a Sikh priest) who spoke little English and his translator, a motor mechanic and tabla player, to welcome the Tutti Artists into a space of worship, with chai and pakoras and more significantly to tie the Tutti turbans gifted to them, onto their own turbans- an important act. Images of gentle and genuine encounters between the Artists and the spontaneously open and warm hearted hosts, are included in the exhibition. This visit generated many discussions, alluded to in the words of Megan Long, about the possibility of working with Sikhs living with a disability, either here or in India. The reality of disability in South Asian communities is, that it is often shrouded in pity or shame. If one outcome of this project could be to allow the Tutti Artists to invert that tone towards possibility, exposure and empowerment that would be a great outcome.

The last meeting, at Tutti, saw a full and beautiful exchange of turbans and the photography of Emmaline Zanelli to occur. The participating Sikh community returned with some new members and willingly untied their own turbans to re-tie a Tutti artist version, linking each via the exchange of what is sacred to each: art and turban. The origami-like, fine, fabric manipulating skills by often highly masculinised men is a paradoxical phenomenon worth documenting and observing again and again. Tying carefully folded and tight turbans on themselves and the artists dignified the now decorated fabrics and completed the circle of connection… until next time.

There is a rap song sung by a 13 year old Melbourne Sikh boy who was bullied to the extreme, on a bus 2 years ago. The song is called Turban Fan.. look it up. The chorus says: ‘I’m a lightning rod — I live in the storm, a lightning rod in turban form.’ The idea is clear. There are some people around us who do attract the stares and the negative attention and more. These people take on more than their fair share of ‘lightning’ — damaging energy and like rods absorb or diffuse it and in so doing, stand as heroes. They make the world safer and more welcoming place because they deal with it. These people when standing together in solidarity remind us that the bravest people, the winners, are those who are unafraid to stand up and stand out for the sake of all.

About Tutti Arts

Pat Rix founded Tutti in 1997 to give people living with disability the opportunity to access professional training and develop their artistic talent. Taking its name from the musical term ‘tutti’, meaning everyone, Tutti has become an internationally acclaimed model of artistic excellence and social inclusion with a truly unique voice in Australian arts. To further the organisation’s vision of taking the work of disabled artists to the world, Tutti offers disability-led collectives like Company AT, The Sisters of Invention and Sit Down Shutup and Watch Film & New Media Festival a rare opportunity to work in an artistic and administrative environment. This supports artistic growth, audience reach, and industry recognition.

Tutti’s mission is to make great art and influence social change and our organisational strength comes from a love of diversity and adventure, and from a deep acceptance of difference. From small beginnings, Tutti has evolved into a socially and spiritually enriching arts community where people with disability are recognised as individuals capable of great achievements in our community and beyond.

Aimee Crathern, Chris Dyke, Jianna Georgiou

Aimee Crathern is a visual artist who approaches her practice with consideration, enthusiasm and sensitivity. Her work often revolves around the theme of love and she enjoys creating mixed media work. Aimee is also a talented singer and is part of pop group sensation, The Sisters of Invention.

Chris Dyke loves to explore geometric patterns using acrylic and has begun to experiment with spray paint art. His work is bold and full of colour and often borders on abstract. Chris is passionate about creative activities, particularly dance, filmmaking, photography and art.

Jianna Georgiou likes to create multi-coloured works that often include patterns and simplistic figures. When working in acrylic her brushstrokes are thick and bold, as she creates striking pieces that capture an array of themes.

Dougie Jacobssen, Megan Long, Hannah Mexted

Dougie Jacobssen is an abstract artist inspired by conversation, music and human interactions. His distinctive mark making style creates intricate and layered works that are full of movement and colour.

Megan Long is inspired by mandalas, nature and animals. She often works in inks, incorporating other media to create layered translucent works. Long is keen to experiment with new mediums and techniques and has recently begun working with textiles.

Hannah Mexted loves to use vibrant colours and patterns to create her art. She is inspired by animals and nature as well as her love of dragons. Hannah is also a keen writer and is working to incorporate text into her work.

Giorgio Mouzakitis & Charlie Taplin

Giorgio Mouzakitis loves to draw and is inspired by the natural world. His detailed images reflect his observations of the world around him and are often infused with an element of humour.

Charlie Taplin is an abstract artist who is inspired by nature and pattern. He often works in acrylic and ink, layering his colours. Charlie’s work is fun, serious and cheeky all at the same time — just like him.