Posted by: Naveen Girn on August 3, 2010 at 1:13 pm


I love this picture.

I guess that’s an obvious statement to make but I strongly feel that it exemplifies the key themes that we want to emphasize with the Bhangra Project.

At the top of the picture is the skyline of Downtown Vancouver and this situates the “place” of our historical endeavour.  What is it about Vancouver (or the idea of Vancouver?) that has influenced Bhangra and made its performance and music different from other parts of the world? How has the city affected and been affected by the story of Bhangra?  What makes Bhangra in Vancouver unique?

This also sets a scope for the project.  It includes today’s Vancouver but our also speaks historically to the downtown area, East Vancouver, South Vancouver, Main Street, Gastown, Chinatown, Commercial Drive, Kerrisdale, Oakridge, UBC and past Boundary Road into Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby and beyond. It speaks to the diverse “soundscapes” and dance forms that are produced here and internationally.  Wherever the music and dance go, it takes Vancouver with it.

The second element is the gorgeous archival picture in the possession of Mr. Paul Binning of PAAR Club.  It features an image of Shaminder Grewal who was a dancer from the Sialkot region of Punjab, Pakistan.  There’s an element of youth and exuberance in his pose that evokes that iconic idea of Bhangra with which many of us are familiar.

As a historical artifact I can’t help but focus on unique elements: the curved stick decorated with various studs, the vest decorated with hearts, his hoop earring, and especially the half moon design that he’s drawn over his right eye.  There’s so many questions I have about this picture too: Why was it taken? Where was it taken? Was it for a competition? An ad? And some questions that are just fun to ask: what colour is his vest, turban and ring, for instance?

A part of me thinks these ambiguities allow our imagination to fill in the blanks and (more importantly) leave spaces for discussion and dialogue.

The lower third is something central to the way we’re researching our project.  The female hand seems to contemplate the picture and skyline together and rather than being voyeurs, it incorporates us (the viewer) into the discussion, too.  How do we situate ourselves with the past of Bhangra in Vancouver?  What parts of if do we highlight? What elements resonate with us?  A key facet of this exhibition is to include as many voices as possible in telling the story of Bhangra in Vancouver and female practitioners as well as DJ’s, singers, musicians & Bhangra lovers are integral to this story.

So that’s my opinion of the Project Image.  I guess I could talk for hours about it (does it seem like I have?) but what does it evoke for you?  Is it an engaging picture? Does it raise questions? Does it answer questions?

Naveen Girn is currently a cultural researcher on the Exhibit which looks at the history of Bhangra in Vancouver and opens May 2011. You can learn more about the project by following his blog and twitter.

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