By: Kim Regala, Peak Associate
In 1984, the Indian government carried out a military attack to target the Sikh community. Religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers were attacked at Harmandir Sahib, otherwise known as the Golden Temple, in the state of Punjab, India. This was later known as Operation Blue Star and what followed were the tragic genocidal killings of Sikh people, as well as anti-Sikh riots. While this period in time remains one of the most haunting moments in modern Indian history, rarely is it ever addressed, discussed, or reconciled.
In Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded), multidisciplinary artist (Nep) Nirbhai Singh Sidhu begins, or rather unpauses, this much needed dialogue in order to reflect upon the often untold histories of the Sikh community. In collaboration with artists Maikoiyo Anabi Alley-Barnes and Nicholas Galanin, Sidhu’s exhibition is a reactionary take on the events of 1984 and how the cultural reproduction of knowledge can unfold following moments of trauma.
On May 29, alongside his co-collaborator Alley-Barnes, Sidhu hosted a talk at the Audain Gallery, where the exhibition will be held until August 3. It is made clear that while the three sections of the exhibition are physically and visually separate, they converse with one another and shape a certain understanding of the past.
The headpieces that we first see upon entering the gallery hints at themes of colonialism, as traditional and religious figures are mixed with Westernized embellishments. Alley-Barnes alludes to the constant motion of these pieces, referencing how the ideologies, consequences, and actions of colonization are ongoing. Although the works are not physically moving, the meaning and ideas behind them (which are constantly happening and evolving) gives the work a sense of life and vitality.
While there was only a brief talk about the large tombstone piece that rests on one end of the gallery, it clearly delivered the message of grief and loss. But perhaps the most captivating visuals were the large tapestries that filled the walls. Intricately detailed and designed, Sidhu’s intentions are vividly captured as he draws inspiration from Sikh history as well as Indigenous iconography.
Sidhu has been criticized for the act of appropriation due to the clear Indigenous references he makes, and he does address these claims during the talk. He reiterated what he had previously stated in an interview with Rachna Raj Kaur for canadianart, that “liberation from colonialism and sovereignty are not monolithic ( . . . ) so commonalities run from many places in parallel and practice here.” He feels all histories of people are intertwined and connected in some way, which means that we should all be able to share and relate to one another’s experiences instead of isolating ourselves within our own cultures.
Medicine for a Nightmare delivers a strong message about how memories can persist, as well as how knowledge is transferred and shared amongst peoples. While Sidhu’s exhibition is deeply rooted in haunting moments of history, he uses his platform to celebrate cultural knowledge and practices. By opening up his own traumatic experiences to the world, he hopes for his works to promote a sustainable conversation, as only then could we activate the dialogue.
Medicine for a Nightmare (they called, we responded) is showing at the Audain Gallery until August 3. Two more talks will be hosted about the exhibition on July 9 and 10. The gallery is open 12 to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday (12 to 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday) and is free to the public.