Ketna Patel: Contemporary Expression (Part Two)

Sunetra Senior Wednesday 12th June 2019 07:58 EDT

Continued on from Part One to be found here:

From living with naga babas in Kumbhmelas to camping in Kashmir, Ketna has been obsessively travelling and 'reading' India for the last 30 years. Indeed, one of her main mission is to celebrate and make stronger the emotional, economic and cultural bridges between Britain and India by interfacing between Art, Academia and Policy.

Last year, India Inc publicly recognized her as a UK-India Youth Leader, she became a member of the thinktank 'bridge India' (www.bridgeindia., and was invited to be a working member of the steering committee of the Commonwealth Women in Business network (

“I followed the elections closely and felt that Modi and the BJP won not because they were pro-Hindu or necessarily nationalist, but because they focussed primarily on pragmatic and infrastructural reform. Necessities are what matters to most people: it was the first time I heard the government talk seriously on introducing basic sanitation: on the issue of toilets! They also raised regional awareness on urgent social matters such as female infanticide and female education. Comparatively, as someone who cares for progress, I’ve felt the liberal elite, well meaning as they are, have become removed from these ground realities, and need to stop being so defensive and be open to a reality check. In the internet driven information age that we all live in, fake narratives are crumbling, and the complex truth is surfacing. This is a splendid opportunity for us all to let go of our defensive positions and really learn from each other”

However, as well as encouraging fervour, the equally meditative medium of art has also allowed Ketna to have an objective distance. The artist ultimately talked of a deeper, existential truth: “Whether or not we’d like to admit it, we are living in a global capitalist culture: in a hyped-up cult of celebrity where we’re made to feel we’re nothing unless we prove ourselves,” and in a spectacular way too. In this sense, it seems, everyone is automatically effaced. The desire to belong then transcends skin colour, class politics, and even the physical, to a mental place of pure acknowledgment.


This means that the fostering of immediate, and “interpersonal” connections has never been more vital. Ketna elaborated: “The theory underpinning my work is that of Global Anthropology: a new sociology emerging as a result of the fall out of globalisation, especially in the information age. Now, we all have access to each other in unprecedented ways and with digital technology, it is a brilliant opportunity to express ourselves more honestly. We Asians have so many stories and colours within us - why live in magnolia and beige minimalism when this beautiful expression in our DNA is impatiently waiting to be released from years of societal conditioning? Why become a clone to a homogenous, bland non-expression that is being systematically imposed upon us when we have the capacity to own our narratives as never before? I try to map this re-mixed society onto an overlapping of Art, Design and Utility by reducing the gap between our Domestic and Public expression. So for example, why can Art not be on our kitchen cabinets, our sofas, our cars and indeed on our buildings?

No surprise then that Ketna’s current series, ‘Brit-India’, is a salute to hybrid identities and a profoundly diverse present: “with the collective anxiety that’s surfaced, we are also being given permission to express ourselves. If we are truly engaged and compassionate, we can get through to the other side.” And so, defiantly inspired, Ketna not only encapsulates the role of an artist, but their unique place in difficult times: being able to embrace as much as critique human behaviour, they are the sensitive “custodians” of society, naturally focussed on the individual and their emotional needs. Art, the most authentic representation of the self, is then itself a powerful governance.

Give us an example of your art as displaying the new, evolving consciousness you speak of?

The past, future and present are collapsing into one plane because of our unprecedented ability to access information from all trajectories of time. We have futuristic movies in the cinema and romanticised period dramas on Netflix. IDENTITY in the Information Age is one of the most important subjects today. I’ve created the 'Asia-Pop' and 'Art-vertising' collections as a response to this. For 20 years, I was based in Singapore, a mix of predominantly Chinese with Malaysian, Indian and expatriate communities embedded. There was always an undercurrent of racial negotiation; something the Singapore Government has been very sensitive to due to a history of racial tension. There’s a particular body of work 'Asian Grandfathers'. I have Chairman Mao on the left and Mahatma Gandhi on the right as I see them as respectively left and right-brained. India to me is the mother of Asia, essentially feminine: neurotic, chaotic & emotional whereas China is more masculine, logical, organized & practical. As the two countries are the main contenders of the emerging world economies, it’s important to see how we can work together, no matter how separate. Afterall, we have many overlapping strands in history where religion, trading routes, cuisine etc flowed in and out of both cultures simultaneously. These lineages cannot suddenly be cut off from each other just because our geo political contemporariness dictate it so. In the end, be it between Pakistan and India, China and India, or the U.K and India, it will be people and our emotional connections; our human relating with each other that will govern our choices and decisions.

What is Art-vertising?

This is the mixing of two dominant aesthetic contributors to modern society; Art and Advertising.  In the last five decades, we have become more subjected to images and brands represented by commercial interests; be this Architecture, cars, fashion or sports shoes!  'Pure' Art (think Picasso, or Van Gogh) has been relegated to museums and history books.  So much of our story telling exists in virtual spaces like the internet, video games and cinema.  That is why for a lot of my recent artworks, using a lot of humour and references to mythologies and classical stories, I have deliberately employed the mood, look and feel of this sugar-coated virtual world onto mediums like acrylic, metal and vinyl instead of traditional paint on canvas.  This is my way of rebutting tired, cliched expressions of poor Asians being locked out of technology, and more importantly, hacking directly and unashamedly into a 21st century sensibility!

Finally, who are some of your favourite artistic influences?

I respect the unsung heroes more than the celebrity voices. Growing up in Africa and living in Asia for half my life, I’ve been privy to so many modes of expression. In India, there’s excellent truck art, for example. There’s a lot more power, vitality and humour in that expression than that which is shown in galleries. I love primal, unconscious art from the street.


T: @ketna_patel


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