Kids Corner


To Hill and Back


Enter the world of the Singh Twins, as they share the experiences and memories of their lifelong collaboration. British-born and based, these renowned Sikh artists have works appearing in leading museums and galleries around the globe. Their challenges and adventures extend past the paintbrush, into their shared life as writers and filmmakers. This is the second installment of an ongoing series, exploring their unique and eventful lives and featuring their tandem talents.


Our decision to choose medicine over art as a career wasn't the only issue of contention to emerge during our school days in relation to how others perceived and responded to our cultural identity.

At this stage, we should mention that we attended a strict Roman Catholic convent school  -  a fact which surprises many people who assume it is irreconcilable with our being Sikhs. But as far as we were concerned, there was no conflict.

Sikhism's universal outlook, as expressed in the first verse of the Guru Granth Sahib, "Ik Onkar" (There is one God), stressed the equality of all religions as, in essence, representing different perceptions of the same Truth. And what was important to our father was that our formal education included some element of spiritual and moral discipline. It didn't matter to him which system of belief provided this and private Catholic schools had an excellent, long-established reputation for delivering the whole package.

So at age seven, it was off to Holt Hill Convent where we were the only non-Christians, let alone Sikhs, in the whole school.

Although accepting us into their fold, we recall the nuns made no bones about our religious difference. During Religious Education lessons, it was common for us to be pointed out to the rest of the class as examples of "pagans" who "of course, won't go to heaven because they haven't been baptized"!  

If we had believed this for one minute, we suppose we would have been, at best upset, at worst totally traumatized  -  imagine two seven-year-olds being told, in effect, that they were destined for eternal hell fire! But in truth, we knew deep down that there was no malice intended and the matter-of-fact way in which it was always said, never failed to amuse us.

Our non-Christian status also meant that we were excluded from attending the compulsory school Chapel service. Being left in a classroom to read or draw whilst the rest of the pupils attended Mass, might have been some other little girl's dream but we did not appreciate the segregation. Our subsequent protests  -  demanding to be treated like everyone else and afforded the right to choose for ourselves in the matter  -  were, to be fair, met without too much fuss.

We were duly allowed to attend, although made to sit at the very back of the Chapel. But at least we felt we had succeeded in making the powers-to-be understand the open-minded perspective of the Sikh faith and that our entering a Christian place of worship or joining in Christian prayer was really not as big an issue for us as it apparently was for them. Unfortunately, just how limited that understanding was, became clear one year when parents were invited to the Christmas Mass. As our father knelt down to pray with the rest of the congregation, the head mistress flew over in a mad panic, black habit flapping behind her and proceeded to try and drag him back onto his feet, exclaiming out loud in horror, "Oh no! Not you, Dr Singh!"

For our part, despite the minor setback of this incident, we had no reservations about getting involved in the religious life of the school.  We became lead members of the choir and continued to attend services regularly in the beautiful, awe-inspiring surroundings of the chapel which sparked off our life-long interest in religious art and iconography.

However, even we had to recognize that there were some boundaries that we couldn't cross and recall feeling particularly left out when successive waves of pupils, including our own group of friends, got to experience all the girly excitement of choosing pretty, white, lacy dresses for their First Holy Communion whilst we, it seemed, had no prospect of ever casting off our doggy brown and rather unglamorous regulation uniforms  -  even if it was to be for a day.

Rather unexpectedly, it turned out that we did finally have our moment when we got to wear borrowed Communion dresses for the school's Scottish dancing performance!

Ironically, as time went on and compulsory attendance at Mass was abolished, involvement of fellow pupils in the religious life of the school dwindled. In the end, it was we  -  still the only non- Christians in the whole school  -  who were relied upon to lay out the priests' vestments, prepare the chapel altar, set out the hymn books, sound the bell at the appropriate moment during Mass, and design the chapel service notices.

Most incredibly of all, we were even chosen to represent the school when Pope John Paul II came to address the Catholic community in our home city of Liverpool  -  which remains one of the most memorable experiences of our Catholic school days.

To be continued ... 

Bottom image on this page, and Thumbnail: Details from The Last Supper by The Singh Twins, 1994/95



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