Nep Sidhu: Shadows in the Major Seventh
Nep Sidhu's solo exhibit shows work that bridges textiles and mixed media with music, architecture, social justice, and the divine feminine.
For many of us, clothes are such an everyday part of life, but for Toronto-based artist Nep Sidhu, they embody histories and values of connectedness, empowerment, and cultural exchange.
Originally a welder by trade who comes from a long line of storytellers, Sidhu describes himself as “someone who connects things in the world.” His non-commercial clothing line Paradise Sportif is informed by modern and ancestral garment design. Made with materials and processes like embroidered silk, embossed leather, and wool chenille, these garments are worn by pioneering personalities in the critically-acclaimed music group Shabazz Palaces and the arts collective Black Constellation.
His Confirmation paintings incorporate chromed steel and aluminum geometrical pattern work with early Arabic-based calligraphy. Also influenced by early architectural forms, Malcolm’s Smile is a trio of cotton and wool prayer rugs with macramé that honours African American civil rights activist Malcolm X. A 24-minute free jazz suite composed by Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces accompanies the work, creating a sound sculpture or “sonic architextile” as Sidhu calls it.
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.
Sidhu’s values take shape in his other involvements too. Along with his family and local volunteers, he helps at a school for young girls and boys in Punjab. His father and uncle started the Sher-e-Punjab Sports Academy as a way to counter the series of problems that were happening at a socio-economic level: declining self-value, failing school systems, drug abuse, and illiteracy. The girl’s boxing program at the academy is garnering a lot of media attention for its state and national successes.
His elaborate gowns No Pigs in Paradise, made in collaboration with Alaska-based Tlingit/Unangax̂ artist Nicholas Galanin, are a way Sidhu’s textile practice furthers the symbolic importance of the girls’ progress: “Hopefully we’ll be able to illustrate through the power of ornament and adornment, this natural, beautiful levitation of these women. I’ve decided to collaborate with Nicholas because we both have a connection to the protection and empowerment of the women in our communities who face different challenges but need restoration. In being believers in the harmony of nature’s divine balance, we see an opportunity within textile to be able to point to that power and alignment.”
By investing in the people and histories that have previously formed and continue to surround us, Sidhu believes that paradise need not be so far away. “Paradise is here and now, not some romantic future notion or convenient dogma-based idea without action or consequence. We must strive to better the lives and situations around us.”
is an interdisciplinary artist who lives and works in Toronto. Sidhu’s 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. A member of the art collective Black Constellation, Sidhu has recently shown his work along with collective member Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes and Alaskan artist Nicholas Galanin in the group show Your Feast Has Ended at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle in 2014.
Image credit (top): Nep Sidhu and Nicholas Galanin, No Pigs in Paradise (2016), detail (Photo courtesy of Anchorage Museum, Alaska). Textiles by Sidhu and adornment by Galanin.
Image credit (middle right): Nep Sidhu, Collection of Paradise Sportif (2013−2014), detail. Photo: Mark Woods (Courtesy of the Frye Art Museum).
Image credit (middle left): Nep Sidhu, Confimation (2013−present), detail, ink on paper, brass, sheet veneer marble, 86” x 86”. Photo: Mark Woods (Courtesy of the Frye Art Museum).
Image credit (bottom): 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).