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Hetain Patel


Hetain has been artist-in-residence at Lakeside, the University of Nottingham's public arts centre, since October 2005. He will be there until the end of 2007 developing his art practice.

As well as collaborating with artists from different disciplines such as music and dance, he is hoping to work with the Electrical Engineering department at the University of Nottingham, to look at externalising the electrical activity of the human heart audibly and optically within a live performance setting.

This is his artistic statement....

The concerns in my practice revolve around the displacement of Indian culture to the UK and how this goes about shaping my identity as a British Indian.

Identity confusion in second generation immigrants comes from the fact that we have never experienced our parents’ ‘home land’ culture in the totality of its original context. Specifically in my case I was born and raised in England, not India. And although I lead a largely western lifestyle, I still feel rooted within certain Indian ideals. The question is, to what extent?

Through my photographic work I have been exploring this through aspects of Indian culture that feel the most unnatural to me- rituals. Wedding and prayer rituals for example seem to me to be a big signifier of the culture and yet they are inherently arbitrary. My approach to exploring the materials used in these rituals is to use larger quantities of them- whereas kanku is usually applied as a red dot to the fore head, I spread it over my entire face, head and upper body. Can I understand it better if I use more of it? Will it make me a better Indian?

I have also been looking at my practice recently as a means to create my own rites of passage- In other cultures, for example Aboriginal or tribal cultures there are initiations to signify passage into man hood such as an act of killing prey or tribal scarring or tattooing. We in the west do not have such rites- there are no guidelines to follow that will initiate and accept me as a British Indian man- to this end, my repeated 4-5 hour long ritual of imposing mehndi or kanku onto my body is my own attempted rites of passage. The major difference being that the marks left on my body are never permanent- they last a maximum of 2 weeks. This identity has to be constantly reapplied and redefined.

Becoming more and more integrated into my practice is Tabla drumming. The tablas are Indian drums, traditionally taught and played by Indians. I currently take lessons in this from artist Ansuman Biswas, and look at it as another way of exploring this idea of understanding the Indian mindset. The composure and mannerisms involved feel like a very direct way to explore this and for me are not unrelated to the performance of applying materials to my body with my hands.

I am interested in both the physical side, and this dialogue that exists between my teacher and myself. Almost like this idea of taking lessons in being Indian.

As far as identity politics are concerned, having tried to impose what is in effect another skin onto myself, it now seems more natural to try to locate something within myself, with a live beat or pulse as my starting point.

As well as this rhythmic side to my work, there has recently been another fundamental development in my practice. Through all my photographic work it was important for me to be working by myself- performing solo in a room with just a camera recording the result. Now however I have become somewhat taken with the notion of collaboration.

Despite not being religious, I find myself always keeping in mind something I read in a Hindu religious teachings book- the phrase ‘Know Thy Self’. And it feels like the way to do this now is to be looking outward instead of solely inwards. I am interested now in the communication and interaction between two people. To this end I hope to collaborate with other creative practitioners, including musicians, dancers , singers and other artists.