Hetain Patel is no stranger to the Nottingham art scene. After building his name across the city, taking residences at galleries like Lakeside and picking up plenty of plaudits along the way, Patel has hit the international stage with shows in Australia, Romania and New York to name a few. In this new exhibition Patel has returned to Notts' New Art Exchange with a collection of works questioning the means of identity and cross-cultural integration. Contrary to his earlier self portraiture, the show is a far more intimate exploration of his psyche as he introduces family and married life into his artwork.
Photography is combined with cinematic conceits creating a carefully considered exhibition that blurs the domestic with the artistic, exchanging the studio with the home. The mergence of these very aesthetically different practices works in a way that blurs the reality between reality and fictional. Metaphors feature heavily in Hetain’s compositions, primarily the ideology of hard work, which is captured through hyper-masculine pop culture iconography.
Comprising one collection of photography and three video installations, two from current and one of which is from 2009, all four works still have enough space to breathe. When entering the space, your immediate attention is drawn to the clashing of sounds crashing against eachother, creating an eerie sensation which echoes the artist’s concerns of identity.
Mamai (2012), is a collection of five screens showing Patel’s grandmother completing her morning prayers on five separate days. The voices from all five screens bleed into one another causing a mergence of sound of each religious mantra into one ritualised chant. His grandmother is not only a portrait of a relative but also a symbol of the oldest Indian influence in his family. These videos express a deep respect from the artist to his elders and highlight his fascination with repetition in recreating cultural memory.
The body of photographic work, Eva, features Patel and primarily his wife in the compositions celebrating domestic married life. Both have markings on the body to demonstrate the use of the traditional pigment in Indian culture. However in the series of photographs, both Patel and his wife are not marked with traditional henna patterns, they are marked with comic book imagery such as the super hero Spider Man and comic book speech bubbles. These references demonstrate that even though the markings with henna indicate a rich sense of heritage, the practice of body painting is in itself an act divorced from its secular roots.
To Dance Like your Dad shows two mechanic screens where Dad is working in his factory on one while the artist is mimics his father’s footsteps on the other. Originally developed for a business project, Patel reconstructed it into an interactive piece in which he would repeat and imitate his father’s speech and mannerisms to emphasise, by way of dissection, his cultural heritage.
Patel’s denouement, The First Dance, moves from the home to the streets and features himself and his wife again inhabiting unfamiliar surroundings. Hetain and his wife are British and Spanish-French respectively, and here both are dressed in traditional wedding attire. While the celebratory image of man and wife conjures a joyous, celebratory mood both remain bound by the trappings and uniform of cultural divide.
Despite decades of policy and introspection, cultural integration and segregation remains a hot topic in Great Britian. Crossing the boundaries of heritage and popular culture, what Hetain does is excavates history and merges his family traditions, domestic life into a fantasy world separate from stereotyped symbolism. Through repetition and thematic patterning Patel instructs his audience to consider a world that celebrates integration instead of highlighting material differences. No matter what your cultural background is, Patel creates a space in which everyone is welcome and can interpret their own understanding in a way that is personal to them.
Hetain Patel: At Home is at The New Art Exchange until Saturday 30th June and is open Mon-Fri 10am-5pm.
Photography courtesy of New Art Exchange