Seeing graffiti in tunnels and subways is not an uncommon sight in NYC but it is quite unusual to witness a flared up cultural and commercial reaction to the defacement of an ad campaign. This is exactly what happened to the “Make Love” GAP ad, featuring the Sikh jewelry designer and actor Waris Ahluwalia.
As has been understood, this defacement had nothing to do with the ad campaign itself, but was against the Sikh man wearing a turban. The word ‘Love’ got replaced with ‘Bombs’, with an additional comment that read: ‘Please Stop Driving Taxis.’
PHOTO: On this GAP subway ad featuring a Sikh man…Vandals have written "Make Bombs" & "Please stop driving taxis" pic.twitter.com/yvw2vhfexW
— Arsalan Iftikhar™ (@TheMuslimGuy) November 25, 2013
As soon as this defaced image of the Sikh model was snapped by a NYC-based photographer and found its way to social media through user Arsalan Iftikhar, @TheMuslimGuy, GAP immediately tracked the vandalized ad down, and replaced it with a new, non-defaced poster. Moreover, the company put up this same ad as its Twitter background in an act confirming the solidarity of their campaign.
Although such a racist response to the ad featuring a Sikh did not go over well with the American Sikhs, the immediate and timely action taken by GAP was well appreciated. Mandeep Dhillon, a Bay Area based Sikh-American entrepreneur, said that his community has to continuously deal with such misconceptions regarding Sikhism. He proclaimed, “It’s a reminder that even as a society over the last decade, we haven’t come very far.”
Another NYC based Sikh, Avtar Singh, had similar instances to quote. For him, attending school after the 9/11 attack was a very painful experience, being the only turban wearing student. For a Sikh living in the US, safety has become the primary concern.
However, in contrast to the positive response towards bringing Sikhs into the mainstream, some Sikhs are unhappy with how they were represented. Sikh activist Gursant Singh is organizing a protest Thursday, December 5, in front of a Davis, CA Gap store. According to an interview with India-West, Gursant Singh asserts the ads are highly sexualized and are disrespectful to the religion, mainly because of Ahluwalia’s exposed chest and the way an unmarried woman is touching him.
It seems that US still has to go a long way as far as understanding Sikhism is concerned.
Waris Ahluwalia has acted in the Wes Anderson films The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and Hotel Chevalier. He also designs jewelry for his company, House of Waris.