Since the age of dot we have been scribbling, drawing, painting. Inside books, the backs of doors, even living room walls – all were our canvas on occasion until our father provided a huge chalkboard in the playroom to encourage us to develop our creativity within more acceptable confines.
We graduated from chalk to colour pencils and felt tips to ink pens as a matter of course, with each successive birthday and Christmas gift providing ever more sophisticated and exciting art materials to explore. And always at hand was our father, ever watchful and ready to give instruction on the finer points of draughtsmanship.
With lessons on perspective and how to draw knights and horses and dogs. Influencing our progress by explaining how faces were egg shaped rather than round and knowing just when and how to help us make the switch from flower noses to ‘proper’ noses.
In the end, it was our father’s romantic images of knights in shining armour that were to have a lasting impact on us at that time, awakening an interest in the world of fairy tale, myth and legend which would lead us to abandon the world of reality to create intricate drawings from imagination inspired by the decorative style of the Victorian Illustrators.
There is no doubt that Art featured prominently in our daily life. But it was simply our way of relaxing. A favourite past time, it would never amount to anything more than a hobby and something we very much took for granted. That is, until we went to University.
It was then that art became a vocation and we became artists with a mission. A mission motivated by two major influences that have shaped our outlook on life since childhood but were to have a profound impact on how we would come to view art and our role as artists. On the one hand there was the intense loyalty and sense of pride we held for the traditional customs and values of our Sikh and Indian heritage. On the other hand, the institutionalised prejudice we encountered within the predominantly white British environment in which we grew up, were educated and now practice our joint career as artist.
The origins of how these influences came to effect a change in our attitude to art go back to our school days. It was there that we first recall having to defend our corner against generally negative representations of Indian culture in the British media. And it was there that we experienced first hand how certain misperceptions and assumptions arising from this, directly affected the way others reacted to us.
In particular, our teachers who fell for the ‘dictatorial Indian parents’ stereotype viewed us accordingly as ‘oppressed little Indian girls.’ Given our natural talent for and obvious love of art they simply refused to accept that the decision we made from the outset to pursue the sciences, was our own. Their relentless attempts to coerce us into the arts instead, against our will, continued throughout our school life right to the end, even after we sealed our career decision with a University application to read Medicine.
The cultural bias which we had always suspected as underpinning the logic of their persistence was finally confirmed when we discovered that the teacher’s accompanying report to our University application advised that we were ‘only pursuing Medicine because of family tradition and parental persuasion’. No doubt their intention was well meaning – aimed perhaps at speaking out for two pupils whom they imagined to be too afraid to follow their own hearts or bound by a sense of family duty to put a more ‘suitable’ profession above their true interests.
But ironically, these unfounded conclusions denied us the very freedom of choice which our teachers presumed to be prohibited by our Indian upbringing, when lack of support for our Medical applications effectively forced us along the very path that we had openly resisted throughout our school life. So it was with some resentment that, with all other avenues closed to us, we eventually embarked on a combined studies degree in the humanities which included a module on Contemporary Western art. Our one consolation was that with the blinkered attitude of our school teachers now behind us, at last we could look forward to studying in a more enlightened environment. How wrong we were!
To be continued………. further adventures through the school years.
1985 Dragon Queen
Early drawing of Guru Nanak by Singh Twins
Pupoo in the Kitchen an early University work by Singh Twins in 1987