British Columbia

Abbotsford Museum follows up award-winning exhibit with feminist Sikh display

The Sikh Heritage Museum in Abbotsford has been named one of 2016's most culturally impactful museums in the province.

'Museums in general are getting a much larger capacity to enact change,' says co-curator

The Sikh Heritage Museum is housed inside Abbotsford's Gur Sikh Temple National Heritage Site. (canadiansikhheritage.ca)

The Sikh Heritage Museum in Abbotsford is building on the success of its recent exhibits with a new display that is also trying to make an impact.

The museum was recently named one of 2016's most influential; its exhibit on the contribution of Canadian Sikhs to the country's efforts in the First World War won it an Award of Merit from the B.C. Museums Association.

"[That exhibit] created bonds and friendships and dialogues that normally would not have happened," co-curator Sharanjit Kaur-Sandhra told CBC's North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay.

The Gur Sikh Temple was established in 1911 and exists in its original state to this day. (canadiansikhheritage.ca/Reach N294)

"We had members of our local legion here in Abbotsford who started having conversations [after visiting the exhibit] with a lot of ex-veterans and a lot of soldiers from India."

But the museum's significance doesn't end with what visitors learn inside.

Hands-on learning

Kaur-Sandhra credits the museum's impact to the first-hand experience of learning about history in a place that is itself historically significant.

​It's housed within the Gur Sikh Temple, a national heritage site with over 100 years of history and the oldest temple of its kind in Canada.

"It's not something that's adjacent to, it's not something that's happening outside of whatever else we're learning, it's actually interspersed in that history of Canadian discourse," she said.

Feminist examination of Sikhism

The museum's current exhibit applies a feminist perspective to traditional Sikhism.

One piece looks at the five physical markers carried by an initiated Sikh, such as the steel bracelet known as a kara, and re-imagines them from a feminist point of view.

"How does that re-conceptualize the way we associate Sikhism the faith as very patriarchal? Which, in fact, it's not supposed to be," said Kaur-Sandhra.

No matter the subject the museum is tackling, she believes it, and others, have a unique ability to teach.

"Museums in general are getting a much larger capacity to enact change ... to evoke historical discourse, [to change] ignorant perceptions of people or communities or groups, and [at] this site, I have actually seen the light bulb go on."