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Transcript of The Singh Twins interview

In this interview with acclaimed artists Rabindra and Amrit Singh (The Singh Twins), they talk about the Rabindra's painting featured in The Rise of Women Artists exhibition and discuss whether they define themselves as 'women artists' or not.

How did you first get the idea to combine traditional Indian miniature painting with Western influences?

Rabindra Singh: We come from an Indian background but we were born and brought up in the UK. We’ve always naturally taken the best of both worlds I think, growing up in two cultures. And on an early visit to India we came across the Indian miniature painting tradition and prior to that we’d always being fascinated by the Western traditions such as the Pre-Raphaelites, the Art Nouveau movement and renaissance art. In many ways there are quite a few parallels between those Western traditions and the Indian miniature style in terms of the decorative quality, the narrative and the symbolism. And naturally being inspired by all those traditions our work fuses all of those inspirations together.

But I think more importantly it was significant for us to bring together the Indian miniature within our own style of work particularly, even though we do still draw upon Western traditions. We felt that we really wanted to highlight the importance of non-European art forms. Growing up in England and going through an education system here, especially within the arts system, there was always a very Euro-centric outlook and a tendency to separate East and West - culturally as well as in other ways. I think we felt that there had never been that barrier there through history. If you look through history there’s always been an interaction between the East and Western worlds in all fields, whether that is in politics or science or art. So one of the other reasons why we wanted to draw upon both the Eastern and Western styles was to really break down those barriers as well.

What inspired you to create the painting ‘Oh Come All Ye Re-eds’, which is featured in The Rise of Women Artists exhibition?

Rabindra Singh: The ‘Oh Come All Ye Re-eds’ painting in the exhibition was actually commissioned originally for a particular exhibition that was happening in London in 1996. It was a Euro Football Festival and so the whole exhibition was around the theme of football. We were approached by the curator who’d seen our work and felt that we would give an interesting perspective to the theme of football. I must admit our initial reaction was “oh my gosh - football is so boring!” You know, we’re not great football fans, we don’t follow football. So really it was a challenge to us to try and find a way to make the subject of football interesting to us on a personal level.

We’ve always been interested in social issues and political issues. One thing that had always fascinated us was the fascination that the rest of the country and indeed the rest of the world has with football. It was almost like football was a religion. I think it’s been said on TV many times – and especially in Liverpool – that there is that very strong attachment to football, that it is almost like second place to religion. So the idea for the painting came from that. It represents a game of football but on the horizon we have the two great cathedrals of Liverpool, almost vying for attention if you like, while this game of football is going on.
And so there is no personal connection in that sense, in the people in the crowd, it was more about football being a social activity where people can come together. A game like football can actually unite people from different cultures and backgrounds. So in the crowd you have a real mix of different people from different walks of life, including the vicar, who’s in the crowd there watching the game rather than being in the church himself! So there’s always the humour there that is in all our work and a bit of satire as well.

The Singh Twins with the painting 'Oh Come All Ye Re-eds'

Do you define yourselves as ‘women artists’ or do you think this is irrelevant to your work?

Amrit Singh: I think personally as artists we’ve never thought of ourselves as women, we’ve never defined ourselves as ‘British female artists’. It’s always been ‘British artists’ or ‘British Asian artists’. I think that the gender issue is not really important, as ultimately I think the art should speak for itself and the quality of the work and therefore it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman.

But I think that it is important in the context of if you consider throughout history where there has been prejudice towards female artists then obviously that is something that needs to be re-addressed. It’s made a difference in the past and it’s obviously something that needs to be re-addressed in terms of re-setting the balance of equality within the careers in creative industries. In that context I think there should be more incentives to support female artists especially since many of them are juggling a million things; family life and other commitments around the work they are trying to do. And it’s not always easy to take up a career in art alongside that, to commit to all your other daily activities. Essentially though, no I don’t think that gender matters. The work should speak for itself.

Rabindra Singh: From a personal perspective though in terms of support for women, in the context of our own background and coming from an Indian family, actually we’ve had a lot more support being women than we would have done being men. Because traditionally it’s the men who are meant to be the breadwinners and go out and get a so-called ‘decent job’.

Amrit Singh: There was less pressure on the women!

Rabindra Singh: Yes, there was less pressure on the ladies within our culture. So I think we do find generally that Indian women do have this innate sense of love of decoration. If you go to India there is this ability to create really beautiful things if you go into villages or look at henna designs on the hands. And these women aren’t trained, they aren’t trained in embroidery. It is a bit like in the Victorian era when it was something that was handed down from mother to daughter. It developed within the domestic setting. So I think from our own cultural context I think it’s been an advantage that we’re women and we’ve had 100% support from our family in pursuing a career as artists.

From what you’ve seen, do you think that women are well represented in galleries in the UK or do you think more work by female artists should be exhibited?

Amrit Singh: Well obviously we don’t know every collection in every gallery in the UK, but I think generally speaking that there does seem to be a disproportionate representation of women versus men. And I think just for the sake of giving women credit where it’s due there need to be some efforts made to bring more of the female artworks to public attention. I think many people ion general perception seem to think of women – particularly in the Victorian era for example – as being the sitters rather than the artists. Whereas the exhibition here at the Walker is very clearly showing that they not only sat for the male artists but they were also very accomplished in their own right as creative people as well.