Double vision
Last Updated : 23 October 2010, 15:37 IST
Last Updated : 23 October 2010, 15:37 IST

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Their style is a fusion of Indian tradition and contemporary Western influences which they label ‘past modern’. Each canvas is produced jointly and combines the bright colours, intricate designs and flattened perspectives of intricate Indian miniature paintings with modern political, social and cultural themes.

 Among their best-known are From Zero to Hero, featuring the Beckhams, and Art Matters, a piece commissioned to mark Liverpool’s tenure in 2008 as European Capital of Culture.

In 2002, they were only the second British-born artists, after Henry Moore, to be accorded an exhibition at New Delhi’s National Museum of Modern Art. Meet the Singh Twins, probably the only twins in the world who paint together.

A long journey

Amrit and Rabindra Singh’s father, Karnail Singh, came to the UK when he was nine. They were born in Richmond, Surrey, but moved to the Wirral when they were still small. They wished to study medicine and emulate their father, a doctor, but fate clearly had other ideas in store for them.

The twins completed their graduation in Comparative Religion, Ecclesiastical History and 20th Century Western Art History at Liverpool University and, later, went to Manchester University in 1990 to specialise in a postgraduate study of Sikh religious iconography after winning INTACH scholarships to carry out a year-long research in India.

The identical twins carefully dress the same — the salwar-kameez coordinated with delicately matching jewellery and dainty shoes. When asked, they say it’s something they adopted in response to the double standards they faced from their art tutors who criticised them for developing similar interests and styles in art.

What irked them was that while they were told they were not being individual enough, their fellow students were actively encouraged to produce clones of various role models of modern art.

It got Amrit and Rabindra thinking about notions of individuality, how it is dictated from a western viewpoint and is so central to western thinking, yet rarely exists in a society driven by peer pressure where advertising and consumer forces tell us what to eat, how to dress, etc. It was then that they deliberately started wearing the same clothes to challenge the notion of individuality.

The seeds of individualism were perhaps sown when they first went to India at the age of 13. The journey was a huge adventure for the sisters because they didn’t travel the “normal” way. Their father – he was returning to his homeland after 30 years – and his brothers drove all the way from England through Europe and West Asia into India.

 They travelled for nine months, experiencing the cultural richness and diversity of India. It was a significant turning point in their lives and as they witnessed ancient monuments, temples, palaces and museums all over India, they were struck by how rich India’s artistic heritage was. They also visited contemporary art galleries but were disappointed to find most of the artwork just aping western trends in art.

Love for heritage

One of the things that the twins came across in India was the miniature tradition and this literally blew them away. However, there was little indication of contemporary artists drawing upon traditional Indian art, particularly the miniature genre. From that point, the sisters made it their mission to revive and develop the miniature art form and popularise it in the UK.

When the sisters returned to England, they started to teach themselves miniature painting. They would blow up photos, see the minute details and start copying that.
They used fine brushes to fill in the paintings, but it didn’t go down well with their tutors. But the opposition only made them more determined and they rebelliously declared that an attack on their art form was an attack on their heritage.

The determination has paid off as the contemporary miniatures of the Singh Twins have earned them huge popularity. They have had a hugely  exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London and their paintings are part of many private and public collections worldwide.

The sisters continue to be invited to speak on their work at institutions such as the Tate Gallery, London, The Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada, The National Museum of Modern Art in Delhi and Mumbai, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

The Singh Twins are also published authors. Their writing includes books such as Bindhu’s Weddings and Images of Freedom as well as numerous articles for magazines, journals and websites both in the UK and abroad.

Two fine art books, Twin Perspectives and Worlds A-Part, have been published on their work. In addition, they are profiled in numerous mainstream arts journals and publications, including the Penguin History of Scotland, The Oxford History of Art: Portraiture, The National Portrait Gallery’s The Portraiture Now and Marg Publication’s New Insights into Sikh Art.

Amrit and Rabindra have always produced their fabulous art the only way they know: together. They have a message for youngsters who go through pressures similar to the ones they experienced as teenagers: It is okay to explore your Indian identity. You can be British and Asian and have the best of both worlds. The sensitive political subtext in their works make their art truly  relevant to our times.

Published 23 October 2010, 11:14 IST

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