Rajni Perera and Nep Sidhu at Patel Brown

Past and future are often at odds with one another, seen as two opposing forces and distinct time frames. In the Realm of Lightning, Patel Brown’s new exhibition, past and future work as themes and influences, preoccupations and inspirations, captured in an infinite universe. This exhibition features a collaborative body of work between artists Rajni Perera (b. Dehiwela, Sri Lanka) and Nep Sidhu (b. Maidenhead, UK).

Installation view, In the Realm of Lightning, Rajni Perera & Nep Sidhu

According to the gallery, these works were created throughout an “extended and connected trajectory of instinctual practice” over the course of two years. The show is comprised of large-scale hanging textiles, abstract sculptures, and installations. With an artistic practice that tapped into the artists’ Buddhist and Sikh origins, as well as their interests in cosmic energy, spirituality, and intuition, Perera’s and Sidhu’s work is expressive, transcendent, and dynamic.

Rajni Perera and Nep Sidhu, A Raag for RA, 2021, sharpie on Butcher paper, string, stone beads, marbled washi, 59 x 77 in.

Walking into the exhibition feels like entering another universe, with vibrant color, never-ending action, and magical energy. These works depict otherworldly characters and settings, fusing abstraction and figuration, and juxtaposing colourful textiles with monochrome metals. Taking inspiration from visionaries such as Sun Ra and religious figures such as Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, this body of work departs from the Eurocentric narratives of futurism into which art is so often forced. In the artists’ interview with AGOInsider Perera  explained In the Realm of Lightning as a “super-expanded situation, or situations repeating infinite times in infinite places, where the action of going within enables us to visualize and manifest Revolution”. For example, Nep Sidhu in An ortho praxis existence. No being more supreme than you & I. This song is  dedicated to Nature’s god, uses an old plow, along with more abstract forms, to salute the hard workers of the past. The textile above the sculptural pieces brings the night sky (dark blue) and the day (sun yellow) into the composition, creating an even more complex artwork. The ephemeral music makes it truly universal. 

Nep Sidhu, An ortho praxis existence. No being more supreme than you & I. This song is dedicated to Nature’s god, 2021, metals and various materials, approximately 66.5H x 108L x 90.75W

Tradition and modernity intertwine in Nep Sidhu’s installation, If they ask you, were we running, you tell them we were flying. With figures clad in traditional clothing and modern tech alike, they are posed in motion, mid-stride, and beg the question: are they running toward the future, or from the past? Richly designed textiles are painstakingly arranged and propped up to appear windswept and dynamic. Perera beautifully embroidered their clothes, depicting traditional and abstract motives, as well as writings in her original language. The two figures are clad in orange and blue respectively, opposite shades, with small details of the other’s primary color as a headband, a jacket detail, yet again bringing ideas of the interconnectedness of opposing forces.

Installation views, In the Realm of Lightning, Rajni Perera & Nep Sidhu, with Nep Sidhu’s If they ask you, were we running, you tell them we were flying (orange) and (blue) above and detail view below, collaboration with Rajni Perera, 2021, various textiles and dimensions

The exhibition also features large-scale, hand-marbled textiles depicting fantastical scenes by Rajni Perera. In one of her wall hangings, I speak of everything, a human figure (a veiled naked woman) crouches under a reclining leopard in front of a background of deep blue with bright floral patterns. It brings to mind old legends of when animals and humans lived together and human tribes believed that they originated from animals. It was also a possibility that those animals bred with humans, further deepening the connection and making the tribe even stronger with their freshly infused blood.

Rajni Perera, I speak of everything, 2021, hand marbled and dyed textile, acrylic-gouache, stone and wooden beads, 107 x 80½ in.

Another textile, In-case the seed breaks/In case the seed is open, is more abstract as we can only guess what is happening in front of the deep red background. Red represents life and it is heavy with a promise of harvest as the seed (also red) opens or breaks giving us the fruit of its shell. The shell itself is a strange mechanical structure seemingly made of metal. Its two parts are kept together with natural looking vines through metal nuts; a unique mixture of natural elements and man-made fabrications.

Rajni Perera, In-case the seed breaks/In case the seed is open, 2021, hand marbled and dyed textile, acrylic-gouache, stone beads, freshwater pearls, 87 x 87 in.

These textiles are immersive and inviting due to their scale and vibrancy. Richly hued swathes of color give way to bright, delicate lines. The lines of abstraction and figuration blur to create otherworldly, intriguing scenes. The wooden frames, created by Sidhu make the textiles even more attractive.

Nep Sidhu’s sombre, monochromatic sculptures provide an interesting juxtaposition to the otherwise, colourful body of Perera’s work. These industrial metal works are reminiscent of minimalist or cubist sculpture but with a contemporary twist. With their sharp edges and menacing energy, they seem powerful and unsettling. Wait for me / and / I wait for you could be a historical scene where warriors with lances guard a castle and the cubistic shapes could represent architectural elements or it could all be a modernist dream of a fantastic world.

Nep Sidhu, Wait for me / and / I’ll wait for you, 2021, metals and various materials,
approximately 60H x 57L x 47.5W

The exhibition also has a room dedicated to the artistic process itself: the scrap fabrics, source materials, mock-ups and preliminary sketches are all works of art themselves. This room gives fascinating insight into Perera’s and Sidhu’s creative process.

Rajni Perera’s and Nep Sidhu’s work create a fantastical, otherworldly and futuristic narrative within In the Realm of Lightning. With each painstakingly and intuitively created, radically unique work, the artists create their own universe of infinite progress and revolution.

Installation view, In the Realm of Lightning, Rajni Perera & Nep Sidhu

Bronwen Cox

Images are courtesy of Patel Brown

*Exhibition information: In the Realm of Lightning, Rajni Perera and Nep Sidhu, August 7 – September 18, 2021, Patel Brown Gallery, 21 Wade Ave, Toronto. Book your appointment

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