Virtue and Valor: Sikh Art and Heritage 


Above: S. G. Thakur Singh, Golden Temple, 1949. The Khanuja Family. 

Phoenix Art Museum is showcasing a broad range of objects related to Sikh religion and history in an exhibition entitled Virtue and Valor: Sikh Art and Heritage. From portraiture and photographs to implements of war, the exhibition draws exclusively on featured items from the Khanuja Family Collection, a local Arizona family. This is the first time the Khanuja Collection has loaned works to the Museum.

“We are grateful to the Khanuja family for sharing these treasures with us,” said Amada Cruz, the Sybil Harrington Director and CEO of Phoenix Art Museum. “It is a privilege to broaden the scope of our Art of Asia Gallery with rare objects, an opportunity made possible through the generosity and community-mindedness of collectors like the Khanuja family. We look forward to sharing this unique experience with our visitors.”


Above: Unknown, Portrait of Guru Arjun, the Fifth Guru (1581-1606), 19th century. Ink and color on paper. The Khanuja Family. 

Below: Unknown, Portrait of Guru Ramdas, the Fourth Guru (1574-1581), 19th century. Ink and color on paper. The Khanuja Family.

Organized thematically, the items in Virtue and Valor: Sikh Art and Heritage traverse a visual journey of Sikh religion and history. Portraits of the gurus, the founders of Sikhism, that reflect the meticulous style of traditional Indian painting will be exhibited alongside religious texts with images painted by both Indian and European artists. Photographs recording the Sikh military presence in British India, as well as the more recent Sikh diaspora in North America, will also be on view, as well as various implements of war including swords, medals, and a helmet and shield.

Virtue and Valor expands the depth and breadth of our understanding not only of Sikh art, but also of Sikh religion and culture,” said Janet Baker, the Museum’s curator of Asian art. “The items on view from the Khanuja Family Collection function simultaneously as aesthetic objects and pieces of historical value, which is crucial for an important world religion that is not widely understood in the West. The intent behind this exhibition is to showcase the multi-faceted significance of these rare objects.”

With more than 23 million followers, Sikhism is now the fifth-largest religion in the world. Guru Nanak (1469-1539), the founder who lived in the Punjab region of India (which includes today’s north India and Pakistan), set out the devotional path that God is One and all creation is equal, without distinction by caste, creed, race, gender or station in life. Guru Nanak was succeeded by nine gurus; the Tenth Guru decreed that no individual would succeed him but spiritual guidance would be drawn from the Holy Book (Guru Granth Sahib).

Since its founding, Sikhism has grown to include followers on all inhabited continents. Sikhs have played important roles throughout world history, notably as Khalsa, the pure and saintly soldiers of righteousness who were an integral part of the British Empire in India and other British Commonwealth territories. In the 1870s, some Sikhs moved to Malaysia and Hong Kong to serve as city policemen. During both World Wars, Sikh troops, including a women’s auxiliary corps, participated in numerous combat zones. In the late 19th century, many Sikhs emigrated to the U.S. and Canada and have since integrated into many Western countries.

Virtue and Valor will be on view in the Art of Asia Gallery through November 5. Admission is free for Museum Members and included with general admission.