Modern thought, ancient wisdom.

Author:Pais, Arthur J.
Position:I See No Stranger: Early Sikh Art and Devotion; exhibition

The story of Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, asleep near a mosque in Mecca with his feet pointed in the direction of the holy Kabba and the reaction of a Muslim cleric to that has been passed down generation for centuries. One version of the story has it that Guru Nanak asked the mullah to show him one place that did not have god.

At the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, a picture shows the mullah trying to drag Nanak and change his position. That version of the story says when the Kaaba turns with Nanak, there is the realization that every direction is hallowed and god is omnipresent.

The painting is part of the exhibition I See No Stranger: Early Sikh Art and Devotion, which will run at the museum through January 29 next year. One of the few small exhibitions to get extensive coverage, the exhibition highlights the spiritual and chronological facets of the Sikh faith which has over 20 million followers worldwide--from the 16th to the 19th centuries.


Lengthy articles about the exhibition have appeared in many major publications including The New York Times. Some writers have praised the two-year-old museum for expanding the limited knowledge most people have of the Sikh religion. A few have pointed out that an exhibition like this has been long overdue, especially in the post 9/11 era, when many people across America mistake Sikhs for Islamic radicals.

In Time Out, a review--headlined "The Hidden Sikh"--praised the Rubin Museum 'for lifting the veil of an often misunderstood culture.' The title of the exhibition inspired by an observation by the fifth Sikh Guru Arjun, who declared, 'I see no stranger, I see no enemy; I look upon all with goodwill....'

The 100 artworks from India and private collection in America comprise dozens of illuminated manuscripts leaves, including a few Janamsakhis--accounts of Nanak's life--silk and cotton embroidered textiles, a pair of wood sandals, copper water pots and armrest.

The museum, which usually focuses on the art of the Himalayas, has extended its mission with the Sikh exhibition. Dr. Caron Smith, the museum's deputy director and curator, shares the conviction of its founder Don Rubin that people ought to know more about the Sikh religion, philosophy, culture and legacy.

Smith and his co-curator, the art historian B. N. Goswamy of Punjab University, have been working on the exhibition for over a year.

Though the exhibition points to the Sikh vision of an egalitarian...

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