Art is famously known as the antenna of our time. It identifies the indecipherable, and translates for the public nuanced expressions that would otherwise often lie dormant in our subconscious. At a time of great socio-political flux where we find ourselves living in a 'Glocal' realm, the work of satirical and politically aware Pop Artist Ketna Patel emerges as powerfully apt. “People think of quirky, kitsch pieces when they think of Pop Art,” she told us, “but my work is about 'Popular Culture' in the sense that it takes inspiration from everyday people”.
Hailing from a background in Design and Architecture, and having worked across the globe, spending more than 2 decades in South-East Asia / India, Ketna speaks with tremendous experience and expertise. Recently 'transplanting' herself back to the UK, Ketna candidly covers the intersecting narratives of ethnicity, class and gender to draw subversive parallels. For example, one print shows an Indian village woman, dressed in the boldly colourful and mirrored Gujarati desert clothes, balancing a metal basket of cow dung on her head, with a speech bubble that reads: ‘I am a Goddess, and you are a loser. Any questions ??!!’
This British Indian Artist melds the sassy Feminism of the metropolitan West with the cliched notions of rural India, disrupting fixed ideas of the relationship between culture and freedom, disenfranchisement and what South Asian womanhood can be. A person brought up in a village can be as opinionated as their urban counterpart; women of colour can be enlightened about their rights and loyalty to tradition and self-expression can be entirely on par with the over educated (but often out of touch) 'liberal left rhetoric'.
Ketna discussed her ongoing frustration with the subjective obscurity that informs her work by referring specifically to the psychology of the liberal left versus Populism: “again, a lot of people don’t see the underlying issues, jumping straight to judgemental conclusions. E.g. it is commonly assumed that those who voted to leave the EU must be small minded, nostalgic and racist when really a democratic vote was the only way for a large portion of society to register their anger with an unequal system that has resulted in millions of people feeling invisible and useless. This massive psychological fracturing of the people cannot be fobbed off with welfare handouts, because the loss of work and dignity is making society sick. We have to have a more in-depth and intelligent debate about the perils of corporate agendas which are short sighted and profit driven, often oblivious to long term consequences on humanity. As a commonwealth Artist, I will focus on marginalised voices whoever they are, as the 'true health' of our collective society lies within the masses, not the privileged few. I think it is a huge mistake to take binary positions of 'left' or 'right', because it does not help anyone if all our energy is wasted in dissing the other rather than actually listening and learning from ALL versions of reality”.
Indeed, as active as she is opinionated the artist, or rather ‘Artivist’, goes deep into otherwise overlooked communities to produce sociological observations: “Recently, I have been living and working in South Wales, where as an artistic journalist, I’m learning about the places that mainstream Britain has left behind. Being on the receiving end of prejudice myself, I know the value of curiosity, and how sincere questioning can yield enriching human encounters and overcome many prejudices. I enjoy tuning into gatherings where I can eavesdrop on the voices from live community, be these church sermons or gardening clubs. I've learned a lot from chatting with ex miners, having tea with grannies, playing with kids on the street, basically listening to the rumblings of the country usually dismissed by Westminster.” This fresh perspective that Ketna brings with her has already won her much acclaim. Indeed, at the recent Affordable Art Fair in Hampstead, her exhibition was greeted with exclamations of surprise and gratitude. Many visitors remarked on the sheer topical power of the artworks; the combination of colour, narrative and socio-political awareness.
Similarly, some of the artist’s most memorable projects in Asia have been accessible, grass-roots interventions such as ‘Art residencies’ that she has organised in the villages of India. In 2016, she co-curated, crowd funded and participated in a month long residency (WWW.SHOPARTSHOP.COM) in the village of Gunehar, Himachal Pradesh, where ten artists from various disciplines used derelict shops as live ateliers or studios to make work informed by the village itself. The entire process was made transparent to the villagers (indeed they all participated in the works) and was filmed and documented in meticulous detail. This remarkable experience took up half a year of Ketna's time, and captured the attention of phenomenal national Press coverage. The following year, she partnered with Artist friend Puneet Kaushik for a similar project in the Arts + Crafts village of Raghurajpur, Odisha. In 2018, she spent a month making a giant rotating sculpture in an Art Residency curated by Artist friend Katharina Kakar @ Ambica Beri's amazing Art Laboratory in rural Madhya Pradesh (WWW.ARTICHOL.IN). This year, she will be documenting the Gujarati villages of Charotar, in particular her ancestral village of Karamsad for a Brit-Indian project she has in mind.
Check in Next Week for Part Two of Ketna’s SPOTLIGHT Story.