Kids Corner

XXVIII Olympics



Stamps of Approval


Ever since our post graduate days at Manchester University in the early 1990s we have been researching and collecting mass produced printed imagery pertaining to the Sikhs.

It's an interest which stems back to childhood memories of the brightly coloured posters, illustrated calendars and even business adverts depicting various Sikh personages, places and events, which hung in our grandfather's home and the local Gurdwaras.

It has to be said that there were many people both within and outside the community who did not and still do not share our enthusiasm, dismissing such images as kitsch, cheap, the epitome of 'bad art' and poor taste. Given their characteristically clashing hues, glossy finish, glitzy embellishment and simple draughtsmanship we could, perhaps, understand to some degree where this opinion was coming from. Nevertheless, there was something compelling and endearing about this popular art form, something which tugged an emotional chord in the thousands of Sikhs who displayed them with pride of place and certain reverence (garlanding them with tinsel or flowers). For first generation Diaspora Sikhs growing up in a predominantly British culture and society where facilities for expressing, understanding and learning about Sikh identity and culture were scarce, they provided a tangible link with their roots.

A desire to prove the value and importance of these images within the community, despite negative opinions about their artistic merit, is what initially inspired our decision to research the history and development of this art form at University. It was at a time when the mass produced popular Hindu imagery or, 'calendar art', as it was generically referred to, was attracting serious academic interest in the UK and North America . And yet, the parallel Sikh tradition, an equally significant and independent phenomenon, was being overlooked. Rising to the challenge to redress this imbalance, we explored how the developing iconography of Sikh calendar art reflected aspects of Sikh identity, belief and practice against a changing social, political and cultural climate.

Our ambition to explore and archive how Sikhs and Sikhism have been represented through the printed image over time continued after we left University. But our research now extended to different mediums including post cards, photographs, newspapers, and magazines.

Our most recent interest is in Sikh stamp collecting which started with a chance sighting of a stamp, depicting the Golden Temple, at an antiques fair where we were scouring for Sikh memorabilia. It caused quite some excitement as the realisation hit that here was a whole new area of research which could enrich our documentation of Sikhs in print. And best of all – it was relatively affordable to collect!

Most importantly, as imagery which is issued and approved for circulation by the Indian Government largely in a celebratory or commemorative context, it occurred to us that a comprehensive stamp collection would be important for several reasons.

It would offer a unique insight into how India has and continues to officially and publicly represent the Sikhs, acknowledge their contribution to India as a Nation and identify with key personages, places and events in their history. Also, in documenting and celebrating the essentially positive contribution of Sikhs to India and elsewhere, the collection would provide a testimony to the respected position Sikhs traditionally held prior to the damage done to their image by the politics of 1984, which undermined Sikh achievements and caste doubts on their loyalty to India. And, it would offer a valuable resource for cultivating pride in Sikh achievement and heritage amongst the global Sikh community itself.

As such, our aim is to make the collection broad so that it projects as accurate a picture as possible of how Sikhs have been represented in postal history. The collection includes stamps, first day covers and launch brochures issued both by India and in other countries. They mark various occasions, and cover numerous subjects - revealing the contribution of Sikhs both as individuals and collectively (including as members of the wider non Sikh community) across the fields of sport, politics, military accomplishment, art and social welfare. In addition they depict Sikh historical places and events and aspects of Sikh values and philosophy. Finally, the collection also covers the commemoration of International events and places that have some bearing on or relevance to the global Sikh community.

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