Almost five-years ago Amit and Naroop came together thinking about photographing the Sikhs of the community in West London where they grew up. Their project “Singh exhibition” which documented 38 Sikhs from the UK and 36 from the US started by capturing the imagery of Turbans and beards embraced by Sikh men who they knew in their family and community. But interestingly, the duo themselves do not wear the turban.
“We never wore a turban because we were never raised in that fashion. My father never wore it and my grandfather had to cut his hair to get a job. The fact that we are Indian Sikhs and doing this project doesn't necessarily mean that we have to wear the turban. If you look at the history of when we started back in 2013, we were trying to showcase our culture and make a difference to the community out there who embraces it.”
But neither of the duo would want the book to be associated with their personal choices or their lifestyle. Naroop almost laughs at the irony of being asked the same question time and again about how personal identity culminates into inspirational work. However, Naroop is quick to argue-
“We could go on to do a project on orthodox Jewish community or represent the catholic culture and it doesn't mean that you have to be one of them to do it. Back in 2013-14 when we started there were a lot of non-Sikhs who were growing and sporting that long beard. So, we thought that this could make for an interesting project! It is not about us but about the people.”
What is Turbans and Tales then? A book portraying Sikh men from US and the UK, each wearing wrapping a Turban in a unique way and growing a beard different from the other? Is it just a documentation of fashion and representation of identities?
“Turbans and Tales documents the stories of the people. It highlights the experiences of some of the older generation who migrated to the UK in 50's and 60's and records their stories.” Naroop explains saying how it took them close to 4 years to finish the project during the course of which the project transformed slightly from simply being a representation of identities to in a way wanting to create awareness about the Sikh community.
More so, especially in the US as opposed to the UK where Naroop believes that in the latter a lot of people know how the Sikh community is different from the Muslim community not that there is anything wrong about it, he says.
“There is still a lot of racism and calling Sikhs terrorists and we got in touch with The Sikh Coalition which is a non-profit organisation that helps in providing legal advice to these people which would make this project more powerful!” Naroop explains.
Talking about his own personal story, Naroop explains how he has never suffered any racism while travelling to countries but he talks about how there is this stigma associated with the “brown skin” and that makes him “want to play safe” and not cause any unwanted trouble.
Turbans and Tales will be released on 24th January 2019 after 4 years of research, production shooting and editing.