Toronto-based artist Nep Sidhu’s first solo exhibition at the Surrey Arts Gallery features large-scale textile and sculptural works as well as collaborative pieces with artists of the Black Constellation collective.

“Shadows in the Major Seventh” is the first solo museum exhibition of emerging contemporary artist Nep Sidhu, whose multimedia practice yields explorations around the themes of the divine feminine, ancestor veneration and the intersection of myth and history.

Nep Sidhu and Nicolas Galanin, 'No Pigs in Paradise' (2016), detail. Textiles by Sidhu and adornment by Galanin. Photo courtesy of Anchorage Museum, Alaska.

Nep Sidhu and Nicholas Galanin, ‘No Pigs in Paradise’ (detail), 2016 Textiles by Sidhu and adornment by Galanin. Image courtesy of Anchorage Museum, Alaska.

Together with a large body of exquisitely and intricately designed textiles – some in the form of vestment and others as tapestry and architecture – Nep Sidhu has seamlessly merged his practice with the music, narrative and adornment of his collaborators Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, Ishmael Butler and Nicholas Galanin. His first institutional solo exhibition at the Surrey Art Gallery “Shadows in the Major Seventh” will run until 12 June 2016.

Nep Sidhu (b. 1978, England) is an Indo-Canadian multimedia artist, living and working in Toronto. His work has been exhibited in the Frye Art Museum, the Anchorage Museum and the Textile Museum of Canada. In 2014 Sidhu participated in a group exhibition with Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes and Nicholas Galanin, curated by Jo-Anne Birnie Danzker, director of the Frye Art Museum, titled “Your Feast Has Ended“. Together with Alley-Barnes and Galanin, Sidhu is a member of the multidisciplinary creative collective Black Constellation, which also includes Shabazz PalacesTHEESatisfactionErik Blood, OC NotesPorter Ray and JusMoni.

Nep Sidhu, Collection of Paradise Sportif (2013−2014), detail, various materials. Photo: Mark Woods (Courtesy of the Frye Art Museum).

Nep Sidhu, ‘Collection of Paradise Sportif’ (detail), 2013−2014, various materials. Photo: Mark Woods. Image courtesy of the Frye Art Museum.

Sidhu, a welder by trade and an autodidact across various artistic media, approaches his practice as does an architect laying out plans for an edifice. His works– be they the garments comprising his non-commercial clothing line “Paradise Sportif”, or multimedia works exploring the spaces between language and architecture– relay Sidhu’s sensibilities around continuum, heritage, community and the spiritual possibilities of third space.

Nep Sidhu and Nicolas Galanin, 'No Pigs in Paradise' (2016), detail. Textiles by Sidhu and adornment by Galanin. Photo courtesy of Anchorage Museum, Alaska.

Nep Sidhu and Nicholas Galanin, ‘No Pigs in Paradise’ (detail), 2016. Textiles by Sidhu and adornment by Galanin. Image courtesy of Anchorage Museum, Alaska.

As curator Jordan Strom writes in the exhibition text,

Sidhu works in a variety of media because he says he needs more tools to tell a better story—a story of universal brotherhood and sisterhood, of restoring natural balance and order in the universe, of investing in the relationships around us. This idealistic thread anchored in the here and now is echoed in his works and in the show’s title wherein the number seven suggests perfection and harmony in nature.

Nep Sidhu and Nicolas Galanin, 'No Pigs in Paradise' (2016), detail. Textiles by Sidhu and adornment by Galanin. Photo courtesy of Anchorage Museum, Alaska.

Nep Sidhu and Nicholas Galanin, ‘No Pigs in Paradise’ (detail), 2016. Textiles by Sidhu and adornment by Galanin. Image courtesy of Anchorage Museum, Alaska.

Collaboration is a practice that runs parallel to Sidhu’s solo investigations, and this exhibition reveals the ways in which Sidhu and his colloborateurs merge seemingly disparate media to form complete and self-sufficient universes. No Pigs in Paradise is a collaboration with Sitka, Alaska-based artist Nicholas Galanin, that debuted in January of this year in Galanin’s solo exhibition “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” at the Anchorage Museum. This series is comprised of four female forms draped in Sidhu’s textiles and finished with Galanin’s hand engraved metal adornment.

Nep Sidhu and Nicolas Galanin, 'No Pigs in Paradise' (2016), detail. Textiles by Sidhu and adornment by Galanin. Photo courtesy of Anchorage Museum, Alaska.

Nep Sidhu and Nicholas Galanin, ‘No Pigs in Paradise’ (detail), 2016. Textiles by Sidhu and adornment by Galanin. Photo: Sienna Shields

These forms represent Sidhu and Galanin’s homage to First Nations women who have suffered centuries-long epidemics of violent abuse and homicide – treacherous legacies of North American settler colonialism, which continue to play out in First Nations communities in Canada and the United States. The garments and adornments go beyond the utility of simple clothing and jewelry. As stated in the exhibition text for “Kill the Indian, Save the Man”,

The right path in this instance starts with protecting the women – leveraging ornament, textile, ceremony, incantation so they can be prepared to lead their families, communities and societies to an exalted, harmonious and prosperous status quo.

Nep Sidhu, 'Malcolm’s Smile', 7a, 7b, 7c (2015), wool, poly-cotton, aluminum, 150” x 96” x 15”. Commissioned by the Frye Art Museum and funded by the Frye Foundation, Douglas Smith. Made in Collaboration with Ishmael Butler’s sound installation 'Ecdysis'. Photo: Mark Woods (Courtesy of the Frye Art Museum, Seattle).

Nep Sidhu, ‘Malcolm’s Smile’, (2015), wool, poly-cotton, aluminum, 150” x 96” x 15”. Commissioned by the Frye Art Museum and funded by the Frye Foundation, Douglas Smith. Made in Collaboration with Ishmael Butler’s sound installation ‘Ecdysis’. Photo: Mark Woods. Image courtesy of the Frye Art Museum.

In the centre of the main exhibition gallery stands Malcolm’s Smile: three twelve-foot tall handwoven tapestries in pyramid formation, with cascading macrame forms resting atop golden platforms. Standing within the pyramid structure one can hear Ecdysis, a musical work composed and arranged by Ishmael Butler, one half of the hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces. At once meditative but also ecstatic, Ecdysis is reminiscent of Oum Kalthoum, or perhaps even Nusrat Ali Khan, in the way it provokes surrender and refocuses the mind and heart. The unification of these visual and aural recitations is known as SonicArchiTextile.

In Sidhu’s own words,

Ishmael Butler and I came together to create an aural visual installation known as SonicArchiTextile inspired by, and exemplary of, one of the most transformative individuals of our time—Malcolm X. Leveraging the sacred through unseen protocols, seeking truth by creating spaces that favor feeling over materiality, we have created a work that goes far beyond tribute. Rather, we have materialized the essence of transformational energy, and harnessed it.

Nep Sidhu, 'Confirmation A' (2013−present), detail, ink on paper, brass, sheet veneer marble, 86” x 86”. Photo: Mark Woods (Courtesy of the Frye Art Museum, Seattle).

Nep Sidhu, ‘Confirmation A’ (detail), 2013−present, ink on paper, brass, sheet veneer marble, 86” x 86”. Photo: Mark Woods. Image courtesy of the Frye Art Museum.

Sidhu’s Confirmation series merges language – Kufic script, which he studied with an imam for nine months – brass and sheet veneer marble in three different iterations to create singular spaces with specific intents. Confirmation C is the fruit of a collaboration between Sidhu and Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes. It is Alley-Barnes’ ornately crafted story “Curse Words” that is retold in Confirmation C – an account of the blood-drenched, quartz-filled lands that comprise the territory now called Seattle.

Nep Sidhu, 'Confirmation C' (2013−present), detail, ink on paper, brass, sheet veneer marble, 86” x 86”. Photo: Mark Woods (Courtesy of the Frye Art Museum, Seattle).

Nep Sidhu, ‘Confirmation C’ (detail), 2013−present, ink on paper, brass, sheet veneer marble, 86” x 86”. Photo: Mark Woods. Image courtesy of the Frye Art Museum.

Alley-Barnes’ narrative provides a commentary on the transgressions visited upon the indigenous people of Seattle through the lens of the seventh son of Chief Si’ahl (Chief Seattle) who rejected his culture so much so that he aligned with the white settlers, a decision that resulted in his being cursed with immortality. Sidhu’s visual translation reinforces and serves as a portal through to the stark realities of Seattle, and a broader commentary on the transgressions – spiritual and otherwise – of the Pacific Northwest region and the United States. In this third space we see clearly and unavoidably how much blood has soaked this land we call Seattle, and are forced to reckon with our stake in it.

Nep Sidhu, 'Divine of Form B (Song for Rana)', 2016. Image courtesy of the Surrey Art Gallery. Photo: Brian Foreman.

Nep Sidhu, ‘Divine of Form 7B (Song for Rana)’, 2016. Photo: Brian Foreman. Image courtesy of the Surrey Art Gallery.

A grounding force in this exhibition are the works in tribute to Sidhu’s mother and brother both of whom are deceased. It is in these works that we get the clearest glimpse of Sidhu’s considerations of the spiritual possibility of third space. Be that space a portal to another realm, or the place where our ancestors reside, the guiding principle is clear – protect and exalt. Working from that point of departure, Sidhu’s work creates conceptually fecund spaces that advance the multiple dimensions of his own practice and make possible the discovery of crossroads for collaboration.

Negarra A. Kudumu

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Related topics: Indian, Textiles, Sculpture, Emerging artists, Museum shows

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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