Canadian-born Keerat Kaur will present the keynote and musical perofrmance at the 2023 Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature ceremonies on November 16, 2023 at Northview Golf & Country Club in Surrey, B.C., Canada.
She is the author and illustrator of ‘Panjabi Garden: Nature’s Wonders, through the Gurmukhi Script.’ The publication is an illustrated book focused on learning the basics of the Punjabi language through motifs and metaphors of nature.
Keerat is also a talented singer, especially of Gurbani Keertan and Panjabi folk songs. She has performed on stages and at events across the world.
Keerat’s work, including her book, has been exhibited at the Surrey Art Gallery in B.C. and the Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives in Brampton O.N. Her art displays have accompanied musical performances at events that draw crowds of heritage-seekers. She has also been commissioned by Bank of Montreal, among other private and public clients.
Her delight to co-promote excellence in Punjabi art with the Dhahan Prize
Keerat’s enthusiasm to participate in the 2023 Dhahan Prize ceremonies stems from her desire to preserve the Punjabi language and culture, especially among its diaspora. In that regard, she believes motivation to pursue excellence in the arts among Punjabi speakers is paramount. In her view, the Dhahan Prize provides exactly that motivation.
“The Dhahan Prize has always held an allure for me for its commitment to championing the vitality of Punjabi language,” she says. “This commitment to the pursuit of excellence enriches the literary landscape, inspiring generations to come.”
She also appreciates the way in which the Dhahan Prize makes an effort to be inclusive of the Shahmukhi script, used primarily in Pakistan.
“Recognizing the distinct tonal nuances emanating from Pakistan’s experience in Punjabi, the prize admirably embraces the language in its multifaceted splendor,” she says.
She hopes to be an inspiration and a magnet to more young people in the community who may attend Dhahan Prize related events.
On that note, she will also present a workshop and dialogue with high school students at L.A. Matheson Secondary School in the fall of 2023, as part of the Dhahan Youth Award programme.
“I’d like for them to see the embrace of Punjabi as “cool” and for them to see the relevance of it today,” she remarks.
Her personal journey with the Punjabi language
Keerat Kaur is a self-described Canadian with “Sikh-Punjabi roots.” Born in London, Ontario in 1991 to parents who immigrated in the 1970s and 80s, she remembers her neighbourhood being scant of Punjabis. Still, her parents maintained a cultural upbringing for their children.
“They diligently fostered an environment where the language was spoken at home; the Gurmukhi script was taught; and journeys to places like Brampton, a bastion of Punjabi diaspora, and even to Punjab itself, were undertaken to solidify our connection to our roots,” explains Keerat.
The family’s strong ties to Punjab led them to move there for roughly two years, when she was in grades 3 and 4. She says those years more formally taught her both Punjabi and Hindi.
By grade 5, Keerat was back in Canada, studying in a French Immersion program. Her educational journey led her on two paths: architecture and art (more on her art below). She also trained in the Dhrupad and Khayaal genres of Indian Classical Music.
Having completed her bachelor’s degree in 2012 at Western University and her Master of Architecture degree in 2016 at University of Toronto, she is also a licensed architect. The majority of her time is spent pursuing her career in the arts.
In 2020, at the age of 29, Keerat was compelled to create one of the most impactful projects of her life: a fully illustrated book designed to introduce the Punjabi language in the Ghurmukhi script.
Her reasons for creating the book were purposeful. She longed for other lovers of language and heritage to have a ‘portal’ by which they could embrace the Punjabi language, and thus, its accompanying culture.
Afterall, she grew up in Canada where Punjabi is the third-most spoken mother tongue language. Yet, she encountered no shortage of people her age who grew up being able to speak Punjabi, but not read, write or interpret with it.
“While many young individuals possess an inherent fluency in speaking Punjabi, comprehending its intricacies of syntax, grammar, and spelling awaits exploration,” she explains. “In crafting Panjabi Garden, my focus was on people of my age group—individuals who harbour a fascination for Punjabi, yet might encounter challenges in accessing its mathematical intricacies.”
“The loss of a mother tongue entails a forfeiture of a distinctive mode of thought. Each language possesses an inherent framework that imparts a unique cadence to communication,” says Keerat, while explaining her belief in the importance of language preservation.
After roughly 10 months of authorship and artistry, she self published in 2022. The book, ‘Panjabi Garden’ – intentionally spelled with an ‘a’ – was launched.
“I chose the path of self-publishing, opting for a publisher who allowed me autonomy over both content and design. I was driven by a yearning to curate every facet of the work, and so I sought to sculpt it without constraints or limitations,” she explains.
Readers can now purchase the book through several online outlets, based on where they are located around the world:
The inspiration behind her art
No matter what she’s visually creating, it always seems to present as a delightful, fanciful fairytale – a ‘place’ we can all remember ‘immersing’ ourselves into.
As her website states, “her aesthetic sensibility lies within the surreal, a realm where the ordinary merges with the dreamlike, imbuing her work with fantasia.”
Her artistic background explains it all.
“Enthralled by the captivating imagery adorning cartoons and movies, particularly Disney animations, my early endeavors primarily comprised attempts to emulate these visual wonders. Moreover, a profound source of inspiration emanated from the captivating narratives regaled by my parents: tales steeped in Sikh history and Punjabi folklore,” she recalls, also stating that in addition to art classes, she was privately tutored in Byzantine icon painting and Indian and Persian miniatures.
But most of all, it’s Keerat’s relationship with the pomegranate that begs curious questioning. It appears over and over again in her work, including her self portraits.
Any viewer would be compelled to ask, “what does it mean?”
“Pomegranates exhibit aesthetic beauty, deliver health benefits, and can evoke mysticism. I have had a lifelong attachment to this fruit as it was a delicacy during my visits to India,” she explains. “Pomegranates have been poeticized for centuries, and my work seeks the depths to which this can be explored.”
Anticipating her appearance at the Dhahan Prize ceremonies in November, 2023
Language and literature lovers in Vancouver, B.C. will have the chance to see Keerat Kaur perform in person at the 2023 Dhahan Prize ceremonies. They’ll be able to buy copies of her book, along with bookmarks to match. She’ll also be doing book signings, which she only does at exclusive events.