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Hetain Patel

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1980, Bolton, UK
Lives and works in London and Nottingham, UK

Hetain Patel is a UK-based contemporary artist of Indian origin. His work originally began with photography but he has gone on to include video and live performances. Centered on cultural identity his art is a question, rather than a comment, on the being. He has continually used traditional Indian pigments to mark himself and question his identity.



Bachelor of Fine Arts, The Nottingham Trent University, United Kingdom


Diploma Foundation Studies in Art and Design, The University of Salford, United Kingdom

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Patel began live performances to increase his adaptability to the audience

In an attempt to bring his video art to life, Hetain Patel began his practice of live performances, thus entering the dynamics of a theatre and a live audience analysing his work while it is being delivered. He wanted to brace the level of intimacy that live performances deliver, otherwise physically absent when art is presented in other forms. Unlike videography and photography, live performances could be improvised depending on the response by the audience. In a live performance the track of our performance is reliant on the reactions of your audience.” Thus it becomes a process of delivering and critically observing the level of interest shown by the audience. His first live performance TEN began as an experiment to convert his video art Kanku Raga into a live performance which further led to others.

Hetain Patel, TEN, 2010. Performance view.

The question of cultural identity has been a constant theme in his art

Of Indian origin and born in Britain, Hetain Patel has often questioned what his true cultural identity is, as he has been stereotyped because of his accent, appearance and mannerisms. His motive is to investigate and define the self. His hybridity and dislocation also assumes the tangent of the nature/nurture debate and to what extent his Indian roots or his British upbringing has influenced him. He attempts to define identity on the basis of new sensibilities or a given ancestry; on whether one lives with all parts of the self or attempts to re-write with newer choices. These questions are perpetually brought to attention through his performances. For instance, in an attempt to imbibe the Indian his father was when he moved to Britain, Patel did his longest and most ambitious project ‘It’s Growing On Me’, where he grew out his hair and beard to be like his father.

Hetain Patel, Its Growing On Me, 2008, still from a video.

He uses traditional Indian pigments in his art

Though Hetain Patel continually questions his cultural identity, his inclination towards using several traditional Indian pigments in his art makes one wonder of his connect with his Indian-self. In a number of his projects he has painted his body with mehndi which is traditionally used in India to decorate the palms and feet of an Indian bride. Another He uses these materials to understand his dislocated connection with the Indian culture. Since his only introduction to these pigment is through his ancestry, Patel tries to understand the cultural importance associated with them by using these in a different manner. These materials act as signifiers for Patel to map the site of his body to make cultural connections and explore his hybrid identity.

Hetain Patel, Kanku Raga, 2008, still from a film

He uses body as a site for his artistic practices

Hetain Patel began his artistic career creating photographic self-portraits. From covering himself in henna to writing Gujrati phrases on his body, Patel uses his own body as a medium for his works. His body becomes the stage where he explores his own identity, involving it in various activities through marking in photographs, videos and live performances.

In one of his earlier series Sacred Bodies he decorated his body with pigments, kanku and mehndi, elements that are inherent to Indian culture. The coating of these pigments becomes a metaphor for a covering in the form of a second skin. Patel, through this practice, dwells on the significance of superficial elements that touch and go and need to be redefined every now and then.

Hetain Patel, Kanku (left panel from triptych), 2003, Lambada prints, 117 x 117 cm (each panel).

He articulates multiple identities and cultural sensibilities through his performances

After initially experimenting with his subject matter extensively in the form of solos, Patel decided to let something else into the equation that would test his creativity. He did so to step out of his own comfort zone, and decided that now his art would also reflect and be influenced by the creative sensibilities of an outsider. It was almost as if he was allowing someone else’s identity to define him which did not permit the audiences to typecast him by his accent.

This was the reason he chose to speak in Chinese and use an interpreter in his highly acclaimed work Be Like Water. Using an interpreter not only gave him the freedom to use another language to express himself but also allowed him to engage his own self with another identity.

Hetain Patel, Be Like Water, 2012, performance still.