Bush Diwan takes as its departure point the remarkable life of Siva Singh. A Punjabi Sikh from India who migrated to Benalla in 1897, Singh left an immense legacy with his community and religious leadership, and his civil rights activism in the early decades of the 20th century. For Bush Diwan, five female artists—Manisha Anjali, Anindita Banerjee, Monisha Chippada, Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa and Amardeep Shergill—offer work that both celebrates Singh’s life and addresses wider social and cultural points.
Amrit Gill, co-curator of Bush Diwan alongside Reina Takeuchi, says the exhibition was inspired by a desire to “highlight the story of a local resident and the story of Asian community formation in Australia’s regions”.
“The Punjabi word ‘diwan’ means gathering or religious event,” Gill adds. “The themes of community formation, gathering, reclaiming identity and faith following migration, and anti-racism are explored in Bush Diwan… We considered what is left behind in migration and how we form and reform identity in our adopted homes through ceremony and cultural practices.”
The five South Asian-Australian artists embrace screen, sound, performance, sculpture and textiles. Gill highlights the work of Canberra-based Shergill which integrates “traditional phulkari embroidery into rigid sculptural forms, invoking strength and resilience in her utilisation of a cultural practice most often associated with women.”
While based on Singh’s life and times, Bush Diwan also asks expansive and urgent questions about multiculturalism in Australia, via innovative artistic forms and storytelling modes. “Something I think will surprise viewers will be the way the artworks are not necessarily a direct retelling of the Siva Singh migration story, but rather a conflation of stories of migration and community formation,” says Gill.
This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 print edition of Art Guide Australia.