“Narrative, decorative, figurative, non-European, small scale – all the things you’re not supposed to do in contemporary art,” they laugh. “So we just thought, ‘let’s put it all in one package and throw it out there.’ ”
Gently iconoclastic, the Twins – Amrit and Rabindra Kaur – subvert not only contemporary art world expectations, but the perceptions of their own culture both from inside and out. Their medium is miniature paintings, a millennia-old technique of intricately rendered works unfolding epic parables with multiple entwined figures and scenarios.
“We come from a Sikh background, but we avoid calling ourselves Sikh artists to avoid being pigeonholed in the mainstream. We’ve always referred to ourselves as contemporary British artists, period.”
“And the main goal has been to put what has generally been seen as an ethnic style and bring it out into the mainstream and say it’s just as valid as any western style.”
In their version, an old form is given the breath of new life with a slate of contemporary concerns: The grinning figures of Tony Blair and George W. Bush shaking hands atop a globe smouldering beneath their feet, or Princess Diana seated atop an elephant, eulogized shortly after her death in the Twins’ satirical mode as a posthumous media darling after years of being a figure of scorn.
“Partners in Crime: Deception and Lies” makes clear how the Twins feel about the warfaring ways of former world leaders U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Both were seen as instrumental in the ongoing Iraq war.
Thus, the Twins use ancient traditions of allegorical miniature painting to portray contemporary events.
“1984” is perhaps the Twins’ most emblematic work. It is an intricate, powerful depiction on a black day in contemporary Indian history, when Indira Gandhi sent the Indian army into the Harmandir Sahib (‘The Golden Temple’) in Amritsar.
In the painting, the temple swims with carnage and the seep of crimson blood. Just as apparent as the chaos, though, is the Indian government’s unlawful bottling up of the incident in the public eye. The media is shown as gagged and blindfolded, reinforcing the painting’s title: 1984 was the date of the attack, but the Orwellian undertone of oppressive state control and propaganda, is just as intentional.
“We’re using an ancient language, but what we’re saying is relevant to everyone,” they said. “They’re universal social and political messages. That’s the key to maintaining tradition alongside modernity: Very often people try to separate the two – tradition/modernity, east/west. And our work is very much about countering that perception.”
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