Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) Divine of Form, Formed in the Divine (Medicine for a Nightmare) Curated by cheyanne turions
Beyond the visual impact of an exhibition brimming with outright devotion to craft, what struck me about Nep Sidhu’s Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) was its deep respect for the viewer’s experience. Despite the highly complex and ambitious nature of the work, there was no assumption of what an audience might feel or be capable of absorbing when viewing it. The generosity of space afforded in encountering each piece allowed the act of viewing to become a fluid process of absorbing smell, sound, texture and inter-dimensionality. My satisfaction with the materiality and presentation of the work sparked an intense curiosity about its conceptual motivation. It was clear to me that Sidhu strongly believed in art’s power to embody ideas and affect a living community far beyond any gallery walls.
Sidhu’s first solo exhibition in Toronto opened at Mercer Union on February 9, 2019. Numbers provided by the gallery revealed record opening attendance at approximately 1000, and total visitors throughout the run at just over 2500. From the start, the exhibition received extensive media coverage. A reference library was added as it travelled to Simon Fraser University’s Audain Gallery in May, and Calgary’s Esker Foundation in September, where it opened as a mid-career retrospective under the new title: Divine of Form, Formed in the Divine (Medicine for a Nightmare). With an emphasis on open dialogue, each iteration built upon the one before through expanded work, location-specific programming, and an ever-broadening curatorial context. Sidhu’s practice is rooted in the experience of living as a Sikh in both Canada and Punjab, employing intercultural and intergenerational narratives that are rooted in antiquity, but remain relevant to the present. Operating on the premise that art is particularly suited for healing through knowledge transfer, Medicine for a Nightmare references events in 1984 which saw the massacre of thousands of Sikhs under the Indira Gandhi-led Indian government. Beginning with an insurgency meant to remove militant Sikh separatist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers from the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar, Punjab, the initial attack resulted in hundreds of civilians killed in the cross-fire. Retaliations included the assassination of Gandhi by her two Sikh bodyguards, which sparked a series of government-sanctioned pogroms that resulted in the death of thousands of Sikhs, the wounding and displacement of thousands more, and the devastation of Sikh libraries and learning centres. One year later, a Sikh terrorist organization blew up an Air India flight from Toronto to Bombay, killing all 329 people aboard,including 268 Canadians. With prosecutions and reparations still outstanding, tensions are very much ongoing in effected communities worldwide. Sidhu’s work consciously chooses not to address these events conclusively, nor does it attempt to summarize or offer any clear answers. Instead, it uses metaphor and abstraction to designate moments for reflection. By combining historical elements with his own experience in a wider contemporary culture, Sidhu has shifted the exhibition’s focus away from trauma and towards an empowered approach to remembrance.