Liverpool Pride of Place in new artwork for The Museum of London.
A major painting commission for the Museum of London, by Merseyside based artists and twin sisters Amrit and Rabindra Singh, places Liverpool as pride of place in a cityscape representing British Asian achievement in the UK. The painting, which focuses on an important episode in British Indian history (the Indian Mutiny or First War of Indian Independence) and explores its social, economic and cultural impact on today’s multicultural Britain and global society is listed as one of the top 5 paintings to see at the Museum’s spectacular new £20 million Galleries of Modern London which opened to the public on 28 May 2010.
Titled ‘EnTWINEd’ the commission by the Singh Twins responds to the Museum’s paintings by Henry Nelson O’Neil, Eastward Ho! and Home Again, acquired in 2004. These canvases, painted in 1857 and 1858, show British soldiers embarking for the First Indian War of Independence and then disembarking after completing their tour of duty. Rather than indulging in flag-waving heroics, they concentrate very effectively on the domestic impact of war. Any sense of what that war was about and what its ramifications would be is missing.
Taking the composition of the O’Neils as their point of departure, the Singh Twins have used the idea of disembarkation to develop an image, which touches upon the Indian Diaspora throughout the British Isles. Amongst the figures disembarking from the ship are 20th century campaigners for Indian Independence, including Mahatma Gandhi, veterans of the First and Second World Wars, representing the role that Indians have played in the British Army, and the artists’ grandmother and father. Almost in the middle of the composition is the prominent suffragette, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh. The photograph from which this image derives is in the Museum’s suffragette collection. Sophia Singh was daughter of Duleep Singh, the last Maharaja of The Punjab, who was a favorite of Queen Victoria and stands richly attired at the lower-right, next to a mehendi-sporting Madonna. The Twins appear at bottom right wearing the official Singh tartan – one of the many symbols of British/Indian, cross-cultural influence and developing relations that are reinforced through the representation of other figures in the panting such as England cricketer Monty Panesar, Prince Charles, Victoria Beckham and the Signature, the Bhangra Michael Jackson finalists from Britain’s Got Talent.
The figures portrayed in the clouds are the freedom-fighters Guru Gobind Singh, Shiva Ji and Maharaja Pratap. Analogies between the official propaganda surrounding the Indian War of Independence and the current War on Terror are drawn in two quotes: one from Feroz Shah, which scrolls around the left-hand border; the other from George Bush, which occupies a cartouche at top-right. The finished painting is an extraordinary and eclectic mix of the historical and the contemporary, the serious and the ephemeral. It takes pride of place in the new Galleries of Modern London alongside the O’Neill paintings.