Emerging American artist Rupy C. Tut's personal journey back to her Punjabi roots

By K.J Mullins -- revised story by Newz4U publisher for Stephen Weir blog

American artist Rupy C. Tut's work is currently being featured at PAMA (Peel Art Gallery, Museum and Archives) as part of Sikh Heritage Month. As the first large solo showing of her calligraphy and miniature paintings in Canada, Tut was excited to be part of the exhibition highlighting her culture at a gallery where Sikh people's culture is celebrated. As a woman, Tut is motivated to embody her heritage in beautiful ways. On Sunday, April 23 she presented a talk about her styles of art to a PAMA packed house.
Artist Rupy Tut - Mullins photograph
 The Sikh community in Canada has a very rich heritage Tut said during her talk. The struggles that the community experienced in India did not just disappear when people immigrated to North America. This has developed  into a North American Sikh art form that looked at the issues of oppression and struggle. 
This is the first time Tut has been to Canada and has found the country refreshing. “Culture is listened to in Canada,” the young artist said in awe, “Canada is very open to everyone's heritage.”
Tut is succeeding in the South Asian art world, a field that is dominated by men. Tut said that she has always seen South Asian females’ take on Sikh culture in beautiful ways but not always as professional artists. She feels that traditional gender roles are still placed on women while men are being able to express themselves in a more fluid way. She believes that females should be able to take on roles that have been denied in the past and that art needs to reflect this changing reality. Many of her paintings focus on this ideal of modern gender changes and the impact they have on the world.
Like many immigrant children, she was well aware of her parent's exceptions to her becoming a success and becoming an artist was not part of Tut's career path. When she started in university studying biology her objective was to become a doctor. She had taken art classes as a teen but the classes were driven to encompass western forms. She said during her talk she said that she did study the masters of Western art learning why and how they crafted their work as they did. Still, she was not fulfilled with those early classes as they did not embrace her spirit or heritage.
Growing up in California, artist Tut felt a huge disconnect as a young woman from her Indian heritage. Born in Punjab she moved to LA at the age of eleven. Connecting to her heritage with art has allowed her to bring Punjab past into the Americanization of the world.

Artist talk at PAMA with  artist Rupy Tut - Mullins photograph

Connecting With Heritage

“It is important to know where we came from before we can show the past.”

Tut found that after university she was losing her native language and parts of her heritage. The internal questions of "where are you from?" sent the young woman on a journey to trace her own history. Tut is passionate about her religious identity and the overall impact that she sees it has on the world.
Tut has learned how to connect with the Sikh religion through her art. In the beginning she went to the source and began to read the scriptures. She then turned to writing as a method of  learning and understanding. As she wrote she began to see the poetry within the scriptures. It took time to be able to fully grasp the meaning of the words. With calligraphy, she is able to show the beauty of poetry with the words forming beautiful images on paper. 
There are very few role models for young women to look up to if they decide to pursue art as a career. Tut said the Singh Twins are two that she has learned from and treasures their advice and kindness. Tut also believes as women become more independent and financially able they need to be more present as art patrons.

Mastering Ancient Sikh Art Forms

“I like to push the boundaries. Explore how to distort language but not the meanings.”

When Tut decided to pursue becoming a professional artist she knew she would need to study in London to learn the techniques of miniature painting. There was a problem, she didn't have the money to just take off and study for at least four months that would be needed. She also had no desire to be a starving artist. She found a way with determination unaware that the art form would blow her away!
Artist Rupy Tut - Mullins photograph

Her first painting was Waiting, partly inspired by her having to wait in order to study the art form. One of the steps in miniature painting is brandishing – a process of turning a painted canvas over and beaten to achieve a special look. As she brandished 'Waiting' the sky she had painted fell off. She talked it out with her teacher and repainted. Again after brandishing the sky fell. The process continued three times. Tut was frustrated. Finally, her teacher said that the painting was telling her something, that the work comes to an artist spirituality. She listened to the art and it is now one of her favourite works.
“My American side makes me want to start over until a piece is perfect. I am a purist.”

Tut's style of calligraphy is called Gurbani. Tut is one of the very few modern artists who specialize in this ancient art form. In fact, it is so rare that as she trained there were no masters around that she could study under. Beginning she used basic tools and English script before moving onto native words. She uses the same basic tools today that she started with instead of some of the older tools that had been used in the past. “The actual tools are less important than the finished piece.”
She has started to explore ways to connect to those who may have lost or never presented the cultural poetry finding that connecting characters to her both sides of her heritage, the American and the Indian, using her own personal translations. She pointed out that she can use the California Redwood tree as a replacement for the mango tree, which is common in Indian art as a bridge to gap between the two cultures.

Modern Focus On Ancient Roots

“Art has the potential to change the world.”

Post 9/11 Tut has found that her paintings reflect her current community and how it impacts her. Painting the struggles of the overall community in the style of her heritage is important to her. “I am always looking for the overlaps overall communities to see how they are connected to the past.”
Struggle is a constant theme, as it is in much of Sikh artwork. Not all struggles she said is of a violent nature. One of her paintings is based on her grandparent's journey during the Bengal famine, a peaceful but very dangerous period. “I can't imagine being a mother and making that journey.”
Much of Tut's work hours are spent researching her ideas and the text she is working with. She dissects every layer of the process before beginning a painting depending on the art medium she is doing. As she sits down to paint she puts on podcasts or music to slow down and be settled while she works. With her miniatures, she devotes countless hours. Her calligraphy pieces can happen rather quickly, as the words move her. “poetry motives me so much, something always stirs.”
Tut knows that art changes as the artist ages. She tells young artists that she hopes that “the way you start out is not how you go on.”

Motherhood and Art

The trip to PAMA is the first time Tut has been away from her new baby girl. While pregnant she wondered if her art would change after she become a mother. She has discovered that so far she hasn't changed as a person but now she wants the world to change faster in a positive way than ever before.
Her daughter is just three months old so there has been a readjustment of her working hours. Now Tut paints each day from 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM. As she creates she things about how being a mother will impact her art.
Motherhood isn't slowing her down. After leaving Canada Tut will be jetting off to New York City to create a large-scale temporary calligraphic installation on poetic love with three other artists.
RUPY C. TUT: A JOURNEY BACK HOME is on exhibit at PAMA through July 2.

See Rupy interview by Canada Art Channel's George Socka


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