Nep Sidhu, Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded). Installation view at Audain Gallery, 2019. Photo: Blaine Campbell.

Nep Sidhu: Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded)

May 30 - August 3, 2019
Audain Gallery

Nep Sidhu is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice is concerned with reverberations of form, antiquity, myth, and history with an affinity for community. Through material investigations that use textiles, sculpture, video, and sound, Sidhu's work seeks moments of knowledge transfer.

Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) explores how memories persist in the present, especially when related to personal and collective practices of resistance, resilience and ritual. Reflecting upon Sikh histories, amongst other collectively formed and formative histories considered through collaborations with Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, Nicholas Galanin and Michael Reynolds, this exhibition explores how memorialization practices can transfigure grief and loss, contributing to a writing of histories that speak back to power and celebrate cultural knowledge and practices.

Anchoring the exhibition are two large tapestries from Sidhu's ongoing When My Dreams Come Knocking They Watch series. Medicine for a Nightmare (2019) conjures the Takht Sachkhand Sri Hazūr Abchalnagar Sahib, also known as Hazūr Sāhib, a Sikh holy site. Axes in Polyrhythm (2018), which is produced in dialogue with Galanin, depicts Tlingit / Aleut cultural forms as well as carving tools that Galanin made himself, alongside shastras and chakras used by some Sikhs. Together, these works commemorate how percussive rhythms are formed through labour, function as the architecture of ceremony and structure communication.

The exhibition also includes recent sculptural works. Formed in the Divine, Divine of Form (2019) is a 3000-pound concrete sculpture that invokes practices of community responsibility and activation — such as seva (selfless service) and langar (the tradition of serving of free meals in a communal setting) — that are fundamental to Sikh cultural and spiritual life. A series of superstructures designed and constructed by Alley-Barnes convene with metalwork by Sidhu to transform and reproduce religious scripture from the page to a material that more closely resembles armour and connotes protection. Here, Sidhu responds to the torching of the Sikh Reference Library, a place where hundreds of rare manuscripts related to the Sikh faith, culture and political organizing were stolen during a military raid and massacre in 1984. In this material translation, Sidhu proposes an alternate means of communication across time, one that might withstand the kinds of destruction and pillage that were utilized previously.

Relationships to the past are embodied in myriad ways, always mediated by class, caste, gender, sexuality, and other intersectional factors. By reflecting on his personal associations to difficult and contentious histories, Sidhu's work considers how the labour of cultural reproduction unfolds in the aftermath of trauma. Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) activates artistic forms towards cultural restoration and charges the spaces of memorialization with new kinds of images, objects and language. These works invite multiple readings where diverging and overlapping responses can take root. Here, the exercise of memory is rooted in the possibility of coming together across difference, of listening, of learning, and of maintaining the possibility of understanding being reshaped in response.

This exhibition is presented by SFU Galleries in partnership with Indian Summer Festival, and produced by Mercer Union (Toronto) and the Esker Foundation (Calgary) with the support of the Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts.

(Nep) Nirbhai Singh Sidhu is a Toronto based interdisciplinary artist. His sculptural practice combines language, light-baring materials and incantation, which are informed by the interplay of script, textile, the poetic wave of architecture, and an affinity for community. Sidhu has previously shown work in exhibitions at Patel Gallery, Toronto; Mercer Union, Toronto; Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto; Art Mûr, Montréal; Heard Museum, Phoenix; Art Gallery of York University, Toronto; Aga Khan Museum, Toronto; Aichi Triennale, Nagoya, Japan; and Surrey Art Gallery, among others. He is a member of the Black Constellation collective, designs the non-commercial clothing line Paradise Sportif, and helps to run Sher- E- Punjab Sports Academy in Chakar, Punjab.

Maikoiyo Anabi Alley-Barnes is a Seattle based multimedia artist, curator, filmmaker, writer, and designer. He explores the resonance of genetic cultural memory through the mundane and the mystical, offering meditative narratives that reflect a fascination with, admiration for and immersion in the aesthetics, rituals and continuum of practices that comprise the African Diaspora. Alley-Barnes has exhibited in museums and galleries in the United States and internationally including at AIPAD, New York; Aichi Triennial, Toyohashi, Japan; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Natural History, New York; Frye Art Museum, Seattle; Mercer Union, Toronto; and DePaul University, Chicago, among others. Alley-Barnes co-founded and was the Creative Director of Pun(c)tuation Gallery, in Seattle, Washington from 2009-2012. In 2014, Alley-Barnes was the recipient of the Neddy Artist Award. He is a founding member of the Black Constellation collective. 

Nicholas Galanin is a Sitka, Alaska based artist whose work offers perspectives rooted in a connection to land through an internationally broad engagement with contemporary culture. He engages past, present and future through two- and three-dimensional works and time-based media, exposing intentionally obscured collective memory and barriers to the acquisition of knowledge. Galanin apprenticed with master carvers and jewelers, earned a BFA at London Guildhall University in Jewelry Design and an MFA in Indigenous Visual Arts and Massey University in New Zealand. His work has shown internationally including at Open Source Gallery, Brooklyn; Whitney Museum, Phoenix; Anchorage Museum, Alaska; Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver; Museum of Contemporary Native Art, Sante Fe; and Northern Norway Art Museum, Tromsø, among others. He is a member of the Winter Count and Black Constellation collectives.

Michael Reynolds is a Toronto based retrofuturist who uses defunct television equipment to produce video doorways, analogue patterning and a false sense of nostalgia, focusing on how identity is impacted by memory. Since 2008 he has worked as a projectionist for various musicians. His ongoing project Thrift Shop Dead Drop plants bootlegged VHS tapes in second-hand stores across North America. He owns and operates the bar Farside in Toronto's East Chinatown. 

Curated by cheyanne turions


Talk: Nep Sidhu in conversation with Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes
Wednesday, May 29, 6 - 7pm
Audain Gallery

Opening Reception
Wednesday, May 29, 7 - 9pm
Audain Gallery

Talk: Legacies of Violence: Sikh Women in Delhi’s "Widow Colony" with Dr. Kamal Arora
Wednesday, June 5, 6 - 7pm
Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre
149 W. Hastings St., Vancouver

Talk and Performance: Omnipresence through the Instrumental with Gurpreet Chana
Tuesday, July 9, 6 - 7:30pm
Audain Gallery

Kirtan (exhibition response): Come As You Are / Medicine for a Nightmare with Gurpreet Chana and Rajkanwal Kaur
Wednesday, July 10, 6 - 8pm
Audain Gallery

Support Material