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

Curated by: cheyanne turions

9 February 2019 - 23 March 2019
Opening Reception 8 February 2019 7pm

 11 October 2019 | 

On 9 February 2019, Mercer Union opened a solo exhibition of new work by Toronto-based artist Nep Sidhu, curated by cheyanne turions. We supported the exhibition and led a partnership with our colleagues at Esker Foundation, Calgary, and later a touring agreement with SFU Galleries, Vancouver. The exhibition in Toronto was among the best attended in Mercer Union’s history, having welcomed over 2,500 visitors and garnered coverage by local, national and international media outlets. The exhibition was conceived as an opportunity to explore a difficult history and examine how memories—especially those related to personal and collective resistance, resilience and ritual—persist in the present. 

Upon opening the exhibition in Toronto, Mercer Union became aware that the project’s references and framing had raised concerns among local audiences. For some viewers, the exhibition was an invitation


Installation views: Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded), Mercer Union, 2019. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

30 May 2019 |

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 and Nicholas Galanin, 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.

—cheyanne turions

9 February 2019 |

Nep Sidhu is a Toronto-based interdisciplinary artist whose practice is concerned with reverberations of form, antiquity, myth and history through contemporary practice, poetics and politics. Sidhu’s first solo exhibition in Toronto, Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded), focuses on his politicized use of textiles to conjure coalition beyond the structures that currently shape civic society, taking the 1984 massacre of Sikh people in India as its foundation. Known as Operation Blue Star, this military event resulted in the death of thousands of Sikh people—a religious minority in India—as well as the deaths of many others. Orchestrated by the Indian government to counter militant activist movements that sought to address the impoverished economic, social and political conditions of life for Sikh people in India, the raid unfolded at the Harmandir Sahib, a Sikh holy site.

Sidhu’s exhibition departs from this recent history to assert the resilience of Sikh people, both as a testament to their faith and as a response to inhumane political brutalities. Commemorating the spiritual role of tending to life in common, Sidhu has created a new body of work that includes a major tapestry, Medicine for a Nightmare (2019), that continues his When My Drums Come Knocking They Watch series. By examining the cultural role that percussion plays across cultures as a symbol of inheritance and becoming, Sidhu conjures a beat that carries ancestral connections forward in time. The exhibition also includes a new sculptural work, Formed in the Divine, Divine of Form (2019), that is charged with exemplifying the practices of community responsibility that characterize Sikh temple kitchens and cultivate cooperation through the practice of seva (selfless service). As gestures of memorialization, Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) participates in a continuum of material and memorial practices that seek to redress the 1984 massacre and the engineered attempts at erasure of the Sikh communities that followed it.

—cheyanne turions

(Nep) Nirbhai Singh Sidhu is an interdisciplinary artist who lives and works in Toronto. His art practice highlights conceptual and technical components originating from antiquity, with relevance for the present. His primary reference points are sound, language, architecture and adornment. Sidhu’s art practice resides along a continuum comprised of conceptual and technical components originating from ancestry, with relevance for the present. His sculptural practice combines language, light-baring materials and incantation thus creating a third space that unifies endless parallels and possibilities. This work is informed by the interplay of script, textile, the poetic wave of architecture and an affinity for community. Sidhu has previously shown works at exhibitions with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Toronto (2018); Art Mûr, Montreal (2018); The Heard Museum, Phoenix (2018); Art Gallery of York University, Toronto (2017); The Aga Khan Museum, Toronto (2017); Surrey Art Gallery (2016); among others.

cheyanne turions is a curator, cultural worker and writer concerned with art’s capacity to provoke otherwise possibilities. Currently, turions is the Curator at SFU Galleries and on the Board of Directors at 221A.

Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) also features works produced in dialogue with artists Nicholas Galanin and Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes, frequent collaborators of Sidhu’s, as well as contributions by Master Gunner Foxx, Thomas O’Brien/Bona Capello and Slow Riffs.

Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) is curated by cheyanne turions. The exhibition is co-produced by Mercer Union, Toronto and Esker Foundation, Calgary.


Support in part for the project is through the Ontario Arts Council’s grant for Aboriginal Curatorial Projects. Works in the exhibition have been produced with the support of the City of Toronto through the Toronto Arts Council.



Mercer Union thanks Exhibition and Publication Support Donors Anjli Patel & Parambir Keila.

PUBLIC PROGRAMSfORUM: Michael NijhawanSESSION: Ricky Varghese

Image: Nep Sidhu, still from Shabazz Palaces’ Quazarz on 23rd, 2018. Digital video, 5 min. Courtesy the artist and Shabazz Palaces.