Hetain Patel at Manchester Art Gallery

Sara Jaspan, Exhibitions Editor
Courtesy of Manchester Art Gallery

Hetain Patel at Manchester Art Gallery, City Centre 30 September 2017 — 4 February 2018 Entrance is free

Spider-Man is a fantasy superhero, and a nerdy teenage boy called Peter Parker – both at the same time. It is perhaps this potential that Spider-Man encapsulates to simultaneously embody more than one identity that makes the character so compelling to Bolton-born, internationally acclaimed artist Hetain Patel, who grew up reading the boyhood comics.

Though Patel was born in Bolton, his family emigrated to England from India in 1967. As a child, he hated having to wear traditional Indian clothing, partly because he didn’t think it looked “very cool.” But also (as he explains in a fantastic Ted Talk) because; “it makes me feel uncomfortable that people assume I represent something genuinely Indian when I wear it.” In fact, the only way he does feel comfortable in the clothes is by pretending they are the robes of a Kong Fu warrior.

As well as being a superhero and Peter Parker, Spider-Man is also the lead protagonist in The Jump (2015): one of two film pieces that Patel will present at Manchester Art Gallery. The cinematic installation shows two alternate views of Patel making an incredible, slow-motion ‘Spidey’ leap wearing a homemade Spider-Man outfit. One scene set against an epic, Hollywood style black background, the other; in his British Indian family living room, where he is watched by 17 relatives. The piece has a deliberately tongue-in-cheek, surreal quality to it; intermingling different culturally-specific reference points and signifiers to draw our attention to their existence.

The second film, Don’t Look At The Finger (2017), is a major new commission. Even more so than The Jump, it consists of an unusual medley of disparate influences: opening with what seems to be a traditional African wedding ceremony in a church, but which then strangely evolves into a Quentin Tarantino-style mix of Wushu, Wing Chun, Karate, interwoven with elements of sign language. Writing about his wider practice, Patel explains: “I am interested in connecting marginalised identities with the mainstream in an effort to destabilise notions of authenticity and promote personal freedom; highlighting familiarity within the exotic, recognition within the unknown.”

Essentially Patel’s work is about identity, attempting to challenge common assumptions based on gender, race, class. How people look or where they are from. His work reflects and celebrates the realities of British society today: a melting pot of different cultures and traditions.

Hetain Patel at Manchester Art Gallery forms part of a programme of eight exhibitions, which will open this September across Manchester’s cultural institutions to mark the 70th anniversary of the creation of India, Pakistan and later Bangladesh. It forms part of The New North and South network – a three-year project that aims to connect with diverse audiences on both continents through a programme of exhibitions and events that showcase the best of contemporary art from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the UK.

Hetain Patel at Manchester Art Gallery, City Centre 30 September 2017 — 4 February 2018 Entrance is free

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