To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, Phoenix Art Museum will present a new exhibition that explores the role of Sikh soldiers in the conflict, entitled Warriors in World War I: Sikh Art and Heritage. Following the inaugural Virtue and Valor: Sikh Art and Heritage exhibition, Warriors in World War I will take place in the recently dedicated Kaur and Singh Sikh Art Gallery and continue the theme of presenting artwork and objects that explore themes of Sikh history and visual culture. The exhibition will feature photographs, drawings, and relics of war that document the significant presence of Sikh soldiers in the British Indian Army.
“We look forward to sharing Warriors in World War I with our entire community,” said Amada Cruz, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “The history and memory of this global conflict remains vital to the present day, and is something upon which we can all reflect. We’re grateful to be able to share these objects with our visitors to commemorate this important anniversary.”
Warriors in World War I: Sikh Art and Heritage explores the presence of Sikhs in the British Indian Army, of which they were a crucial component. Though Sikhs made up only 1% of India’s population in the early 20th century, during which the country was still under British colonial rule, they counted for more than 20% of the British Indian Army that fought in Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, Turkey, France, Germany, Belgium and Britain. Their valor was recognized by many, including historian F. Yeats Brown, who said, “...[Sikh warriors] live up to their title of the Singh, which means lion.”
In order to present as many works as possible, Warriors in World War I will have two rotations. The first rotation will take place from November 18, 2017 through April 1, 2018, and the second iteration of the exhibition will run from April 14 through the end of 2018. The objects on view will include lithographs by Paul Sarrut, a French artist who captured images of soldiers on the battlefield, a rare book of vivid images of prisoners of war, entitled Deutchland Gegner Im Weltkriege (Germany’s Opponents in the World War, 1930), and a large selection of photographs of Sikh soldiers on many fronts.
“The centennial of the armistice that ended World War I is a momentous occasion, and the Sikhs’ participation in the British army is a fascinating lens through which to explore Sikh history as well as the histories of India and British colonialism,” said Janet Baker, the Museum’s curator of Asian art. “Not only do the objects presented in this exhibition showcase the deeply felt esteem in which the Sikh community holds their participation in this conflict, they also speak to more universal experiences and themes of World War I, an event of which we should all remain aware, as it irrevocably transformed the course of geopolitics and shaped the world we live in today.”