Vancouver multimedia artist Simranpreet Anand confronts racial stereotypes with turban blueprint

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      Simranpreet Anand peels layers of meaning from the folds and creases of the turban.

      The Vancouver artist investigates themes of identity, shared traditions, and cultural resilience, which are embodied in the headwear.

      Anand exposes the results of her exploration through an old photography technique for a textile installation.

      Her creation is included in a new exhibit by the Vancouver Art Gallery, opening Friday (May 29).

      “The work itself was created through a number of interactions that I had with friends and family members,” Anand told the Straight in a phone interview. “And so I learned how to tie a dastaar, which is a Punjabi word for ‘turban’.”

      The turban is a traditional headwear among various peoples in parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.

      For those who trace their origins from the Punjab region of the Indian subcontinent and are members of the Sikh religion, the dastaar is an article of faith. 

      The turban goes back centuries, and it has become the most visible symbol of Sikhism.

      Although it is a common headdress, the dastaar becomes a unique fabric for each person through the daily ritual of putting it on.

      “Everyone ties a turban in a slightly different style,” Anand explained. “They have their own way of doing it.”

      To express this individuality, Anand utilized the cyanotype process on different fabrics.

      The cyanotype procedure was an early form of photographic printing that used chemicals to produce blue prints of objects placed on treated paper and exposed to sunlight.

      “Basically, what I did was sensitized these turban fabrics with cyanotype and tied each of the dastaars in the ways that my friends and family members taught me,” Anand said.

      When exposed to ultraviolet light, the resulting textile shows traces of how it was layered, tied, and worn.

      As for its colour, Anand said that one can see “indigo and cerulean streaks” as well as “spots tracing the exterior folds of the fabric and crown of the head, periwinkles, and fainter blues fading with each layer”.

      Anand is a daughter of Punjabi immigrants. Born and raised in Canada, the multimedia artist earned her fine arts and psychology degree at UBC. She is currently an artist and curator in residence at SFU Galleries.

      As someone brought up in a diasporic community, Anand has committed herself to fostering inclusion and fighting racism.

      On that level, she said that her work confronts tendencies to “conflate the image of the turbaned, bearded man with terrorism and religious extremism, especially since the Air India bombing of 1985 and 9/11 [September 11, 2001 attacks in the U.S.]”.

      “There are a lot of hate crimes toward people wearing turbans,” Anand said.

      Anand’s textile installation carries a Punjabi title with an English translation that reads “blueprints for tying a dastaar”.

      Anand is one of 32 artists participating in the Vancouver Art Gallery’s Vancouver Special: Disorientations and Echo.

      The exhibit, which runs from May 29, 2021, to January 2, 2022, features contemporary works from artists in Greater Vancouver.

      The works were curated by Phanuel Antwi, Grant Arnold, Jenn Jackson, Jeneen Frei Njootli, and Christian Vistan.