PhD Sample Proposal


Note: The format has recently changed. However, this should give a sense of the scope of the undertaking.

Research Question:

In my work, I investigate links between cultures and gender. More specifically, I focus on diasporic culture. The Canadian Sikh-Punjabi diaspora, as well as the various Sikh-Punjabi diasporas in Western cities are of particular interest to me. My goal is to focus on research that supports new understandings in artmaking and approaches to creating art by investigating the present state and development of these diasporas in relation to traumatic histories, unique routes of migration and shifts in the practice of gender and caste. In this way, my research and artistic project will investigate the relationship between the gendered body, materiality and geographical space. I hope to further the historical, archival and contemporary research I have done, in an effort to support the developing conceptual framework of my art practice. British colonial histories are of importance to my research. The way in which people and their customs were subjectively identified and categorized by British colonials defines current diasporic bodily and cultural presentations of self. Male and female bodies are self-scrutinized and prepared for public and private presentation, all through a violent and aggressive historical British colonial lens. Various theorists and scholars inform my research practice but I am especially interested in Michael Foucault’s investigation into monstrosity and how it is applicable to contemporary descriptions of othered identities. (Transart note: The research question could be re-phrased as: “What constitutes male and female identity in the Canadian Sikh-Punjabi diaspora?”)

Relevance of Project:

In looking at the relevance of my project, I use repetition and recontextualization as tools to sort and present sometimes difficult and disparate topics. I use found video- and text-based sources, reflective of the historical appropriation of land, culture and material. I hope to bring this to light through various modes of representation. Peggy Phelan discusses the act of performing as a fascinating and fetishizing act, where the mimetic and gendered act of performing, mocking and looking closely and attempting gestures become acts of alterity (7). I explore attitudes, criticisms and stereotypes in my found video and text work. Rooted in experimentation, I take responsibility for the outcome of my work but do not assume an apologetic stance for new hybrids or racialized monsters created in the process of recycling found materials. My experiments may suggest, simultaneously, a number of seemingly contradictory or threatening connections. I am interested in further researching and developing an experimental language of performance; I am also motivated to create work that explores new modes of painting, video and installation. Doing archival and first hand research is an important part of my practice. I have done a significant amount of research on Dutch Wax Prints, commonly referred to as ‘African’ textiles. This relates to my interest in appropriation, performance and colonial paths. I look to create connections between the semi-ambiguous forms found on the textiles and the history of this surface with other gender-based research I am engaged in. I have made an effort to learn as much as possible about the various Sikh routes of migration and current and changing masculinities and femininities within Canadian diaspora. Linking migrant and geographical histories and current realities to materiality and material histories is a connection I wish to deepen. I believe I am taking a unique and important approach to viewing seemingly disparate topics. The research brings to light various race relations, especially in light of divided communities and false and tolerant multiculturalisms. Adrian Piper is an important artist for me. She writes and makes work about the complexities of race, colour and behaviour.

Research Methods:

Part of my research involves learning more about Dutch wax prints in the Netherlands. This will aid me in creating new work and gain insights into the ideas I am interested in exploring further. In looking at the design of and the highly labour intensive production process of creating Dutch Wax Prints, I hope to gain new understandings of this material which I call my painting surface. Painting becomes a political act and the surface on which the acrylic paint sits becomes a point of dialogue- the two are inextricably tied to one another in the process. Looking at archives and visiting wax textile production facilities are two of the major points of research I am hoping to conduct in the Netherlands. Thus far my collaborations with the ‘African’ textiles have been largely text-based. I would like to delve further into this material in hopes of creating a new relationship with the material. The history of this material is of particular interest to me as it brings to light ideas surrounding geography, habitation, routes of migration and appropriation and reappropriation of culture. Inherent in my current practice is a desire to link disparate histories, piecing together new realities and erased links between cultures, using an experimental conceptual coding as my primary mode of visual communication.


I hope to create a new body of work that addresses my research question and current constructions of Sikh-Punjabi diasporic identity and elaborates on my ideas in a new way from what I have previously done. I am particularly interested in the act of producing, commercializing and profiting from a technique, which is what the Holland designers did and continue to do; this is described as a dominant masculine act, one that reiterates various forms of masculine colonial rule. I would like to create this work by continuing to perform the opposite gender. In this way, my body becomes the main medium for my layered and gendered explorations. The Dutch wax print as a painting surface has been very dominant in my painting practice. The inclusion of these colonial-marked patterns are of continued importance for me, although I am interested in new modes of exploration in regards to the use of the Dutch wax print in my work. I look at other artists who use Dutch wax prints in their practices, namely Yinka Shonibare and Grace Ndiritu, who creates subtle video paintings using textiles and her body. The performance, video, text, installation, as well as painting are important media to use and to reflect my layered theoretical, academic, cultural, visual and conceptual investigation into the relationship between the gendered body, materiality and geographical space. Finding and freely appropriating material is a foundation approach I will take, in regards to the creation of new visual work. Part of the aim of this project is to recall erased histories and paths.

Initial List of Sources:

Axel, Brian Keith. The Nation’s Tortured Body: Violence, Representation, and the Formation of a Sikh ‘Diaspora’. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. Print.

Bachu, Parminder. Twice Migrants: East African Sikh Settlers in Britain. London: Taristock Publications, 1985. Print.

Banerjee, Sikata. Make Me a Man!: Masculinity, Hinduism, and Nationalism in India. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2005. Print.

Bhabba, Homi. “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse.” October, Vol. 28 (1984):125-133. Web. 02 Dec. 2012. <>.

Boon, Marcus. In Praise of Copying. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010. Web. 26 April 2012.

Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge, 1990. Print.

Custos, Dominique. “Secularism in French Public Schools: Back to War? The French Statute of March 15, 2004.” The American Journal of Comparative Law 54.2 (2006): 337-399. Web. 20 May 2012.

Dhawan, B.D. “Ground Water Depletion in Punjab.” Economic and Political Weekly 28.44 (1993): 2397-2401. Web. 20 May 2012.

Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1963. Print.

Foucault, Michael. “The Abnormals,” trans. Robert Hurley, in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, ed. Paul Rabinow. New York: New Press, 1997. Print.

Gonzalez, Jennifer A. Subject to Display: Reframing Race in Contemporary Installation Art. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008. Print.

Jakobsh, Doris R. Relocating Gender in Sikh History: Transformation, Meaning and Identity. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.

Mosse, G.L. The Image of Man: The Creation of Modern Masculinity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print.

Myers, Terry R. Painting: Documents of Contemporary Art. London: Whitechapel Gallery and The MIT Press, 2011. Print.

Oberoi, Harjot. The Construction of Religious Boundaries: Culture, Identity, and Diversity in the Sikh Tradition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994. Print.

Ogbar, Jeffrey O.G. Hip-Hop Revolution: The Culture and Politics of Rap. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2007. Print.

Phelan, Peggy. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.

Puar, Jasbir K. “The Turban is Not a Hat: Queer Diasporas and Practices of Profiling.” Sikh Formations (2008): 47-91. Web. 01 Sep. 2012. <>.

Puar, Jasbir K., and Amit Rai. “Monster, Terrorist, Fag: The War on Terrorism and the Production of Docile Patriots.” Social Text 20.3 (2002): 117-148. Project MUSE. Web. 27 Aug. 2012. <>.

Rai, Amit. “Of Monsters: Biopower, terrorism and excess in genealogies of monstrosity.” 538-570. Web. 20 Jan. 2013. <>

Said, Edward. Orientalism. New York: Random House, 1979. Print.

Satish, P. “Institutional Credit, Indebtedness and Suicides in Punjab.” Economic and Political Weekly 41.26 (2006): 2754-2761. Web. 20 September 2012.

Sehra, Gurpreet. “Native Informant and the Diaspora.” MAWA Periodical (Spring 2013): 01. Web. 21 March 2013.

Sehra, Gurpreet. “In flux: Sikh-Punjabi Masculinity in the Diaspora.” MSpace at the University of Manitoba (2012): 1-37. Web. 10 October 2012. <>

Shohat, Ella. Talking Visions: Multicultural Feminism in a Transnational Age. New York: The MIT Press, 1998. Print

Snehi, Yogesh. “Female Infanticide and Gender in Punjab: Imperial Claims and Contemporary Discourse.” Economic and Political Weekly 38.41 (2003): 4302-4305. Web. 20 May 2012.
Young, Robert J. C. Postcolonialism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. Print.

Stronge, Susan. The Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms. London: V&A Publications, 1999. Print.