We recently received an email from the Surrey Art Gallery, inviting us to check out Toronto based artist, Nep Sidhu’s first solo exhibit, Shadows in the Major Seventh.
It was our first visit to the gallery and we were warmly greeted by Jordan Strom, the curator of exhibitions at the gallery. He introduced us to Nep, who was setting up, and getting the final preparations ready for Saturday’s opening reception. Nep’s exhibit features mixed large scale work in mixed media, sculpture and textile design.
Nep describes himself as an artist linking the ancient with the here and now. When viewing his work, the ancient part stands out immediately – for example: Confirmation, a 3-piece work, created with ink on paper, brass and sheet veneer marble, features Kufic script. Kufic, the oldest calligraphic form of Arabic scripts, was developed around the end of the 8th century in Kufa, Iraq. As Nep gave us a narrated tour of his work, he explained how the ancient Kufic script also serves as the here and now. In Confirmation, the translated script is actually the lyrics of frequent collaborator Ishmael Butler, of hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces. Nep sees timelessness as an important quality of art, so it’s not surprising that his work, overall, doesn’t have too many obvious pop culture references present.
His work is chock-full of global influences. Nep draws from his own Northern Indian heritage, as well as invoking elements of several African and Middle Eastern cultures. It’s a worldly take on the various social justice issues he covers in his work. One work in particular, a series of elaborate textile designs titled Pigs in Paradise, is a collaborative effort with Alaskan artist Nicholas Galanin. The garments advocate for the protection of aboriginal women, who’ve been largely marginalized in society. Thematically, Nep’s art is largely tied to social justice issues, and the divine feminine.
Pigs in Paradise
When we were first exploring Nep’s work, we were interested in the concept of Paradise Sportif, a non-commercial clothing line. We noticed Nep doesn’t seem to references collections or seasons when explaining Paradise Sportif, but rather describes his work in chapters. Because Paradise Sportif isn’t a commercial clothing line, it doesn’t operate within seasons or collections. This unique approach to a clothing line is intriguing, in the sense that it’s not inundated with the demands of the fashion industry. Paradise Sportif is made up of materials and processes like embroidered silk, embossed leather, and wool chenille, and are worn by members of Black Constellation and other friends. The modern elements in his clothing – the leather sleeves, silk bombers and vibrant red jerseys would fit in well at major luxury retailers, so it’s surprising that he’s chosen to avoid commercialization. When broaching Nep about this, he explained, “It’s one thing to create pieces in the numbers I do, it’s another thing to be answerable for a large quantity that needs then constant touching base with purveyors of the work. There’s a lot that becomes involved in which, I sort of fall back from, I’m not too interested in.”
For now, it seems that Nep is focusing on his artistry, and communicating his thoughts on issues that are affecting both his community and human consciousness overall. With social media, and the communities that exist online, it’s easy to forget about the physical communities around us, but for Nep, it’s a strong point of reference and inspiration, stemming from his Sikh upbringing.
After looking at his pieces, we sat down with him for a quick chat, about process, timelessness, and his non-commercial clothing line, Paradise Sportif.
Check out the full interview below, after the pictures.
Nep’s first solo show is taking place at the Surrey Art Gallery from April 9th to June 12th