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JCRC & Brookville Native Use Art For Peace

On a crisp November evening, more than 200 people arrived at Chelsea Mansion at East Norwich for the Syosset-based Long Island Jewish Community Relations Council’s holiday party, entitled “Multicultural Visions, Artists Exploring Identity.” People from all ethnic and religious walks of life mingled under the heated tent viewing art from six local artists, equally diverse, including Manu Kaur Saluja, a Sikh artist from Old Brookville.

Each artist addressed the audience and talked about art and how it reflects their individual identity as a Jew, a Sikh woman, a Latino woman or an African American man. Saluja, a portrait artist, explained to the audience how identity is a very complicated issue. Standing between two portraits of her brother, a cardiologist, one wearing a black turban and one with his long hair cascading down his shoulders, she explained why she chose to paint these two portraits.

“This was to humanize my brother as a Sikh man,” she said. “It was a way to drawn attention to cultural stereotypes and the idea was to explore issues of context and identity by what he is wearing. Post 911 the turban, especially a black one, has become a symbol of terror, unfortunately, whereas before it was a regal symbol. Sikh men wear their turban as a symbol of pride and removing it is tantamount to going outside in your pajamas or taking your clothes off in public.”

She told the audience that when her brother was in third grade and attending a new school her mother asked the principal to hold an assembly and have her brother remove his turban in front of all of the children. “It was brave of him and he did it,” Saluja said. “The goal of it was to dispel the unfamiliarity of Sikhs and to familiarize my brother with everybody.”

While guests viewed the magnificent art and chatted with the artists, the atmosphere was enhanced by beautiful music played by high school students from Suffolk County Asian American Advisory Board Orchestra. Talk about diversity. The event was a collaborative effort on the part of the volunteers, the chairwoman for the event, Chumi Diamond, and Executive Director David Newman.

“The goal was to bring a diverse group of people together to look at art from a broad range of artists from a variety of communities,” said Newman. “The idea was that JCRC’s primary responsibility in the community is that we bring people together on behalf of the Jewish community so that the Jewish and non-Jewish communities of Long Island can get to know each other, understand each other, remove the fear of the unknown and get to know each other and in this case in a social environment so we can live together.”

The art work was for sale and a portion of the proceeds to go to JCRC. Arthur Katz, chairman of the Long Island JCRC, described the mission of the organization.  

“The JCRC is the diplomatic arm of the Jewish people,” he said. “We have learned that when people play together, eat together, celebrate together, there is less discrimination and less conflict. When we bring everyone together we can learn about their cultures and we have a happier Long Island.”

To learn more about Jewish Community Relations Council visit www.JCRCLI.ORG or call 516-677-1866.