Kids Corner


Sikh Programs at Chapman University’s Film School





The SikhLens Foundation is an organization involved in creating awareness about the Sikh diaspora’s heritage and culture through art. Accordingly, it pursues the work of Sikh artists in the fields of cinema, literature, music and art and builds bridges to share their work with people around the world. This generates awareness not only for the creators of the artwork, but also for the community itself.

Around seven years ago, founder Bicky Singh initiated a collaboration with Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts by introducing two programs - Project “S” and Destination “S” (where “S” stands for “Sikhi”) for undergraduate and graduate film students, respectively. Through these programs, students travel abroad in order to shoot Sikh-themed films.

Students have traveled not only to locations on the West and East coast of the United States, but also to destinations like Thailand, Malawi, England, Scotland, Italy, India, Nepal and Malaysia. Professor Jeff Swimmer of the Dodge Film School who accompanies the students, says:

“Most of the students that I work with on these films are actually not Sikhs, so for them it’s an incredible learning experience. The films have a wonderful life here at the film school, including their launch at the Sikhlens Film Festival. Moreover, they have also been accepted into film festivals not just in the country but all around the world. They do terrifically on the festival circuit. In fact, I don’t allow the films to be submitted to student film festivals even though they are created by students, because I think they deserve to be with the general audiences and more widely disseminated and appreciated.”

These films, with a length of 8-15 minutes each, are conceptualized in the spring semester; the filming is conducted in the summer and the post-production work begins in the fall semester.

Then, every November, at the Sikh Film Festival, students showcase their work-in-progress. Final screenings are held on the Chapman University campus in December every year. Courses included in the Project “S” program are taught by the faculty of Dodge College and provide students with course credit.

Five years ago, the Dean of Chapman University’s Leatherby Libraries, Charlene Baldwin, introduced Bicky Singh to Essraa Nawar, the Chair of the Arts, Exhibits and Events Committee at the library.

“Here at the library, we focus on bringing diversity and intellectual stimulation to the students, introducing them to topics they won’t necessarily be introduced to otherwise,” says Essraa.

She has worked on displaying diverse exhibits such as the Egyptian Revolution, Arab Spring and had collaborated with the Muslim, Jewish and Italian-American communities on other projects.

“Bicky, with his mind and the way he thinks, he was really intrigued about the stories that we’re trying to tell. Because of his work at the SikhLens Foundation, he has access to so much content; he loves to highlight artists within the Sikh community and so this became the perfect platform for him to do that,” Essraa adds.

Thus, the Leatherby Libraries became another avenue for the SikhLens Foundation to showcase Sikh heritage. The annual Sikhlens Film Festival also marks the launch of a 120-day Sikh exhibit which is open to the public at Leatherby Libraries.

The first collaborative exhibit displayed was ‘Sikhs in the Great War.’ Since then, the Doy and Dee Henley Reading Room of the library has been home to exhibits like ‘The Last King’ and ‘1984: Not Forgotten.’

An exhibt in 2016 highlighted the life of Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind (‘Dr. Ji‘), the first Sikh to join the American Army during World War I and the story of his fight to become a United States citizen.

2017 marked the fifth anniversary of this collaboration with the exhibit titled ‘Sikh: Turban and Identity.’ This exhibit comprised of 38 portraits of Sikh American children, women and men. It will be up until February 28 of this year.

“It’s been a fun journey and through this journey a lot of doors have been opened,” says Essraa, adding, “One of these doors was the naming of the Sikh Story Room on the second floor of the library.”

The Sikh Story Room is a study room open to the students and faculty of Chapman University which educates its visitors about the Sikh religion and culture. The room portrays stories of members of the diaspora that have contributed to the American society. It has a large exhibit case, the walls are covered with infographics and quotes from the Sikh Gurus. An iPad provides further information on Sikh-Americans, as well as a display which pinpoints locations of various Gurdwaras.

“Every single student has been very excited to learn more, something new that they wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to. The feedback has been really fun and impressive,” says Ms. Nawar.

The Fish Interfaith Center at Chapman University is a place where students of all faiths are encouraged to explore spirituality. Rooted in the belief that everyone must have access to a place where they can safely practice their religious beliefs, the Center offers students the opportunity to use its facilities at any time to study, meditate and/or pray.

The Opening Night dinner of the Sikh Arts and Film Festival takes place in the Wallace All Faiths Chapel of the Fish Interfaith Center every year.

In conjunction with the SikhLens Foundation, the Fish Interfaith Center hosts Chapman University’s annual Vaisakhi celebrations every spring.

“It is the only event that students request to work on up to a year in advance! They really love the program,” says Jennifer Ruby, assistant to Dr. Gail Stearns, the Dean of the Fish Interfaith Center’s Wallace All Faiths Chapel.

Prominent speakers are arranged for the event, which also includes cultural performances. Additionally, the Foundation arranges for langar at the Interfaith Center four times a year.

Since January 2017, SikhLens has been partnering with Fish over a travel  course to Punjab and India spanning sixteen days, where students study Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism and Sikhism - the ‘Religions of India.’

It is a full-time course which earns three credits. Three days of on-campus lectures precede the trip, which also features classes and group discussions around the various travel sites.

By integrating Sikhism into the curriculum and culture of Chapman University, the SikhLens Foundation has made extensive progress toward its goal of “increasing awareness of Sikhs amongst mainstream Americans by exposing them to our unique heritage.”

February 19, 2018





Conversation about this article

1: Arjan Singh (USA), February 24, 2018, 8:04 PM.

Excellent effort. It is very important to increase inter-faith events and cultural education programs. Kudos to S. Bicky Singh.

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