Arts/Society 'The Singh Project': British Photographers Celebrate Identity Of Sikh Men


Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, two British photographers are able to put on an exhibit that celebrates the identity of the modern Sikh man.

Last month, U.K. photographers Amit and Naroop posted the campaign for their photo series The Singh Project, a collection of 35 photographs of different Sikh men sporting the traditional beard and turban. With 10 days left in the campaign they reached beyond their goal of £7,000 (about $12,000 US) and announced they’ll officially be opening the Singh Exhibition this fall.

In a video posted to their Kickstarter campaign, Naroop said the idea for the project came to them when they noticed the beard becoming a fashion statement.

“We saw beards were being worn by a lot of young, trendy looking people,” said Naroop. “All of a sudden a beard is considered to be cool.”

So they decided to showcase the diversity in styles of how the Sikh beard and turban are worn in modern Britain. They went on a “Singh hunt” and found subjects through family, friends and local temples. Each photo was set up the same, with standard framing and a plain background “to make the subject the central focus of the image.”

“Every time someone came up each person was different,” Amit said. “They had different outfits, they were from different parts of the country, they had a different job.”
Completing the project gave the pair a “sense of pride,” added Naroop.

What was the inspiration behind your project?

The idea actually came from how beards are now trendy in fashion and mainstream culture. We felt it was pretty interesting to look at it from Sikhism, where the beard – a symbol of discipline and spirituality – has been an integral part of a man’s identity for hundreds of years.

Did you think that hipsters lessen the spiritual value Sikhs place on beards?

Not really. In fact, they have a commonality. Hipsters wear beards for a similar reason to Sikhs – for individuality and respect. They don’t feel they need to conform to the ‘norm’; instead they are following their own path. So I think the hipster trend reinforces why keeping a beard as a form of identity is so powerful. You’re wearing your beliefs on your face.

Having a beard has gone mainstream. Any hope for the turban?

It would be amazing if it did. Young Sikh men are starting to tie their turbans with elaborate cloth, so it’s an extension of their style. But I doubt right now that this will catch on with non-Sikhs.

Have British Sikh men always been expressive with their dress sense?

The Sikh men we profiled are doctors, watchmakers, designers and architects, and they all take great pride in wearing a turban and beard. But some of the older Sikh men we interviewed described how they had to cut their hair when they first came to England just to be accepted so they could get a job. At the other end, lots of the younger men have embraced the tenets of Sikhism, grown their hair, and left behind their previous false pleasures like drinking, smoking or getting themselves into trouble.


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Tejwant Singh

I have read it somewhere that Amit and Naroop who are both mona Sikhs are planning to become turbanvale Sikhs as is the current trend in the diaspora.

The gentleman on the cover of this thread is Hardeep Singh Kohli a comedian and a TV actor. He has two brothers Sanjeev Kohli, who is also a comedian/writer of his own fame and Randeep Singh Kohli who is a Senior Officer with the Metropolitan Police. In fact Randeep was the one who gave news conference after the tragic death of Amy Winehouse

I happen to know the family quite well. Their dad Parduman Singh Kohli is from my home town Ferozepore and a family friend. His brother Charanjit Singh Kohli and I grew up together.

When Randeep came to stay with me in Los Angeles many moons ago, he was mona and wanted to be a police officer and now he is a turban wearing Senior Police officer.