Harbinder Singh, Director of the Maharajah Duleep Singh Centenary Trust and Culture Minister David Lammy. © Richard Moss/24 Hour Museum.
Culture Minister David Lammy was at the Wallace Collection on September 13 2005 to launch the first of a series of plaques that mark out Anglo-Sikh Heritage in the capital and beyond.
The plaques have been developed by the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail as part of a wider initiative to highlight Sikh Heritage in the UK. The Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail (ASHT), supported by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund, was launched in July 2004 and has initiated several projects since then to promote awareness of Anglo Sikh Heritage.
“In a sense it’s personal because it reminds us about how far we have come as a nation,” said Mr Lammy at the unveiling. “Over the next few days, weeks and months, people will come into this place – people who have never dreamed of coming here before."
"To feel the affirmation of the recognition of your culture and where you are from, and to share in a community plays an important role in what it means to live in this country and to be British. That’s why the Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail is so important.”
Culture Minister David Lammy unveils an Anglo Sikh Heritage Trail plaque. © Richard Moss/24 Hour Museum .
The Wallace, known for its great collection of European baroque and rococo art, also features a vast armoury within which are some important items of Sikh arms and armour. It is this kind of hidden Sikh treasure in British museums that the ASHT plaques will point out.
Harbinder Singh, Director of the Maharajah Duleep Singh Centenary Trust which is behind ASHT, thanked the Wallace for being the first museum to take an ASHT plaque: “It really is wonderful to see the Sikhs among the Landseers and the Laughing Cavalier,” he said.
“The project and trail are reflective of how we are trying to encourage a change in the cultural landscape of Britain,” he continued. “For years Sikhs have been walking past Oxford Street without realising the gems that have lain here - the treasures that have been up until now invisible and unappreciated.”
The sword of Maharajah Duleep Singh. Courtesy the Wallace Collection.
He then referred to the recent winning back of the ashes by the English cricket team: “If I could succumb to the temptation to draw some parallels with what is going on in Trafalgar Square with the cricket – we are also reclaiming our ashes.”
“Our ashes were scattered throughout this country, sometimes with the deliberate imperial intent that they should never be reunited for our community,” he said, “but we are reversing that, we are engaging with institutions to say we are no longer the twelfth man but we want to occupy the crease!”
He explained that the partnership between ASHT, the Wallace Collection, Imperial War Museum, the Royal Geographic Society and others demonstrates how the project is a partnership of equals.
“The trail spurred institutions to look very closely at what they had,” he explained, “to re-examine their material, display it and encourage a new type of audience.”
One of the incredible portraits owned by the Royal Geographic Society, who are involved in Anglo Sikh Heritage Week. Courtesy RGS.
The Wallace has been involved in a series of events including talks and workshops that highlight Sikh items in the collection. A gallery trail entitled Warrior King has also been developed that explores its remarkable Sikh cache.
Amongst these in the Wallace Collection Oriental Armour Gallery is the sword of Ranjit Singh, the Lion of the Punjab. There is also a shield, an ornate Sikh helmet, a dagger and chakran (a deadly circle of steel with a viciously sharpened edge).
“It’s also important to experience beauty that is beyond the western canon,” added Mr Lammy, “and I’m very pleased that the Wallace Collection is the home of communicating that beauty. I applaud what is happening here – the endeavour to get young people through the doors and involved.”
“We know the challenge that our Muslim brothers are facing,” he went on, “and that’s why these cultural endeavours are not just about art. It’s deeper than that – it’s deeply cultural and important. That’s why it’s important that I, as a minister and member of the Government, come here today and thank everyone who has played a role in this partnership.”
He then admitted that his diary meant he would have to rush off, but added: “I will come back quietly, wearing a hoody – no-one will notice me – so I can appreciate what has gone on here.”
The unveiling has taken place during Anglo Sikh Heritage Week (September 11 – 17, 2005). Find out details of planned activities on the ASHT site.