Private Lives: Family Affair - When two heads are better than one

Amrit and Rabindra Kaur Singh, 33, are identical twins and work together as artists in the Wirral on Merseyside. Their critically acclaimed paintings - always done in tandem - use intricate detail in modernising the classical Indian miniature tradition, and include a recent portrayal of Diana, Princess of Wales, as a Hindu goddess with six arms
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The Independent Culture
Amrit Kaur Singh

Bindy and I share the same room. We've got single beds on opposite sides of the room. So we are together all night and most of the day. We have identical wardrobes, right down to hair-bands and ribbons, so whoever gets up first opens up the cupboard and sees what needs ironing. The one who is up takes one set of clothes downstairs and leaves the other set behind. Then whoever is still in bed knows what we are wearing that day.

We make a point of dressing identically not because we are freakish or faddish. In terms of our art it is a political statement. It is part of our image as artists. When we were at college, the be-all and end-all of modern art was to express individualism. It was the same at school, where we were put in different classes, even though best friends were always allowed to sit together. The official line seems to be that twins are better off brought up individually. But that did not fit in with us as Asians or as twins.

On the Asian front, this idea of individuality is quite an alien concept. We focus on family. There is no such thing as "I" or "me". Equally, tutors could not understand how as twins we were inspired by the same Indian miniaturist tradition and produced very similar art. There is this fear among people who do not understand the relationship between twins. They think that because you are similar physically, or in action, dress or hobbies, you are not two individuals. There is a feeling in the art world that this is not healthy. An examiner in our final examinations asked us whether we had ever tried to be different. People were always asking us that question. It brought home to us the prejudice people have towards who we are. We are not trying to copy each other - we are just being who we are.

We even get irritated now if people can tell us apart. We think that if we are going to be twins we should do it properly. So when people call me Rabindra, I find it quite funny. We answer to both names anyway - it saves a lot of time. But there are differences. My sister is much neater and more organised in her work. She is more of a perfectionist. She is also more bubbly in company than me.

The only time we are apart on a regular basis is when my sister goes to karate lessons three times a week. I used to go as well, but there was an illness in the family, and someone was needed to look after that person. I also took up flute lessons, which was the first thing we did differently. Rabindra always wanted to learn the piano, so now she plays that. But we go to the same teacher for lessons, one after another, so we get back in sync again.

The prospect that one day we may not be together is difficult. Marriage is highly valued in our culture - it's arranged by the family. I don't think one of us would marry and the other would not. In an ideal world it would be nice if we could marry twins. The only reason being that they would be two people who were close, so the foursome would be close. For myself, I think there may be more valuable or stronger relationships than the twin relationship - between a mother and her children, or perhaps between husband and wife.

Rabindra Kaur Singh

We do look identical, but I would not say we are identical in every way. There have been periods in our lives when we looked identical, but at the moment we look like sisters. We both have a beauty spot on the right cheek. Over the years, Amrit's has grown more prominent than mine. So when we go out, I'll pencil mine in. Only one person has been cheeky enough to smudge it with their finger to see who is telling the lie.

I remember that when we were at school, Amrit had a dental appointment. At that time, the teachers insisted on putting us in different classes. So I went to Amrit's class to say she would be late. I was just walking in and the teacher, thinking I was Amrit, started to tell me off for being late. I let her carry on, and she told me to face the blackboard until after morning prayers. When she turned me around I said, "Miss, I'm Bindy, not Amrit", which was a bit naughty. She just said, "You stupid girl".

Actually, I would enjoy being twins more if we were really identical. But you cannot fix some things. Amrit has a thinner jaw and face than me. I'm rounder. It's not about who eats more chocolate - though I always eat more than her. It is in the bone structure of the face. The rest of our bodies are very similar. Some people cannot pick it out, but it is obvious to us.

In our work there are differences. I'm a bit more patient. Amrit wants to get jobs done. But Amrit has tried to catch up with me, to make her style neater. Now you can hardly tell our work apart, whereas 10 years ago it would have been easy. Amrit also does some things better than me. She is more imaginative, better at designing motifs and patterns straight from her head. So I try to emulate her in that respect.

Secrets between us are impossible. A few weeks ago, it was our birthday and a member of the family asked me to buy a CD for Amrit. It was Jesus Christ Superstar, the sound-track. We were going to a meeting in Liverpool, and I told her we would have to go early because I had to pick something up. She immediately said: "You're going to buy that CD, aren't you?" What could I say? It is impossible to keep things from one another.

In fact, we have never bought each other birthday presents or cards. It would seem silly, like buying presents for yourself. We get very upset if people don't buy us the same presents, especially when it is clothes or jewellery. If they buy only one of something, we have to exchange it or buy another.

The longest we have been apart was when Amrit was in hospital for a week. It was quite depressing. I missed her company and worried about her being ill. When you have spent your life together and always shared the same bedroom, it is hard.

When it comes to death, I suppose the ideal is to die together so neither person suffers. That isn't just true for twins like us. It is relevant for husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. But it's not going to happen like that. It will be saddest for the person left behind. They will have the heartache.

Entwined is on display at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery until 13 June