Growing up, my entry points to religion and spirituality were weekly visits to the gurdwara and nightly (or weekly?) mandatory simran sessions overlooked by my mom. Eyes tracked on the digital clock, waiting for the five or ten minute session to end. And of course, two Sobha Singh prints of Guru Gobind Singh Ji and Guru Nanak Dev Ji overlooking us as we watched TV or played in the living room.
So many years later, when I came across Blahjinder on Instagram, I was overwhelmed by her whimsical illustrations of children and animals engaging in dialogue about gurus and faith and spiritual practice. What would my experience of Sikhi have been as a five year old with images and stories like these?
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Pyara Singh preferred the word ‘invisible’ rather than ‘imaginary’. He was absolutely sure, that if he loved and believed in someone or something deeply enough, then that thing would become his truth. Hence why only Pyara could see his best friend. Only Pyara had loved him enough. #childrensillustration
Baljinder Kaur is a British artist whose art practice embraces illustrations and paintings of imagined, real and transcendental subjects. Her vision of the world and storytelling through illustration -and excellent captions – are enthralling and beautiful. Her sketches of elders walking on the street, reading to children and hanging out at the gurdwara evoke emotions of nostalgia for ones own grandparents (or who we wish our grandparents could have been).
The artist is in Vancouver this weekend for GNA Talks, a TED Talks-style evening where she will speak about “Everyday Sikhi Through Everyday Art.” Baljinder will be joined by poet Harman Kaur and blogger Kiranjot Kaur on February 23.
Baljinder shared the story behind her art practice and the connections between art and spirituality in an interview with Jugni Style below.
How did you come up with your instagram name, Blahjinder?
‘Blahjinder’ came about because I didn’t want to take myself too seriously, but instead use the cyber-world as a space where I could authentically express, let go and grow. You know that expression ‘blah blah blah’, well I feel that’s the story for most of us. It’s only when we’ve exhausted all possible thoughts and emotions, that we begin to connect to what truly matters, that which is ironically beyond all thought and emotion.
I’m quite indifferent to that name and don’t hold it as my identity, although yes, some do refer to me as it.
What is the first illustration that you remember making?
A huge collaborative oil pastel drawing of a crocodile, with my classmates when I was 7. It was bigger than me.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I don’t actively look for it. It is everywhere like the air we breathe.
Tell me about the 100 days/100 faces sketching practice you’re doing. How did you come up with the idea to have strangers share: “Who is your light in the darkness? Why? Who are the people that remind you of your worth and purpose? Who inspires you to be better and challenge your own darkness?” – and then sketch them?
Most of the projects I share online come about very spontaneously, as a catalyst for personal development. The concept of light is important to me, because as a Sikh I believe it is our very essence. It’s our responsibility as individuals and a collective to help each other connect deeper to our light. It is our worth and purpose.
Do you have a preference between digital sketching and sketching on paper?
I enjoy playing with all mediums and often go through affairs and phases.
But paper is one that has always remained close.
I am most drawn in by your illustrations of elders. What is it about their faces and postures that draws you in?
I suppose they feel like hidden and invisible treasures which, as generations in the panjabi diaspora progress, will become rarer to find. I generally enjoy documenting life around me and they are currently a part of it.
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Where did you learn to draw? Did you go to school to learn? Do you still take classes?
I believe that drawing is something that is innate to us all, most of us can make marks on a surface without being taught. We can all draw. So the question really is, where or what did I do to continue practicing?
I studied Graphics and Illustration at University, spent a year at an Arts School in Paris and have continued with life drawing classes and observational drawing from life. Drawing is a way of seeing, processing and expressing and I do it everyday. I am learning everyday.
How do you stay focused and committed to your daily art practice?
It’s the other way around. A daily art practice, keeps me focused, much like any spiritual practice.
What is your vision of divinity?
When ‘I’ no longer exist.
Will you be releasing a children’s book soon? I love your drawings of children, and especially of children and animals intersecting with Sikhi.
Yes, in a few months, I’m very excited! Guru Nanak The Magnificent .
Thank you, it is my ultimate passion and I’m looking forward to starting my MA in Childrens Book Illustration later this year : )