Kenyan-born british artist Ketna Patel uses a bright palette to celebrate the ‘everyday stuff’ in her art work.
Multi-disciplinary British-Indian artist Ketna Patel is a product of globalisation. Her work threads through many realms — personal experiences, cultural immigration, observations of popular and high culture, the juxtaposition of external, the inner bewilderment — to reflect the world in “everyday stuff” (truck art to graffiti to advertising hoardings) to high art. “Everything around me guides me — from junk mail to newspaper headlines to body language to someone’s living room. Our sensitivities give us a sort of porosity to enter other realms,” she elucidates.
Born in Uganda in a ghetto-sized, conservative Gujarati Indian society and having lived next to the African and the British communities, Patel shares it is this “being on the periphery” of identity; not quite belonging anywhere, that’s helped her explore her art. “Even now, I unconsciously escape situations when they become too comfortable and I sense a deadening of ‘spirit’ or live enquiry. As a result, most of my expression comes from zooming into the ‘in-between’ spaces of inner and outer worlds, the gaps between host and diasporic cultures, street culture, etc.” Ketna admits that she loves “crossing borders” to create her works.
Her Asia Pop! series explored street culture of Asia in collages, barber chairs, fashion textiles... and even cars. The artist shares, “Life in a globalised world is not static, and our stories are always in a state of flux, shaped by wars, famines, religion, etc. These influences express themselves in architecture, cuisine, art, literature, fashion, films, literature etc., which in turn transmute into modalities of education and conditioning for all of us. My job is to deconstruct this all and look at each part separately.”
Besides Asia Pop!, her recent Brexit Collection: Selling Britain by the Pound and the series titled Heterotopia, a concept of ‘spaces of otherness’ that included The Last Asian Supper (a painting), showing several influential individuals (Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad, Suharto, Kim Jong-un, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama, etc.) having a junk food picnic in the setting sun, have been highly praised.
As with many pop artists, many of her compositions too may appear ‘pretty’ at a glance due to the heavy usage of multiple colours. But upon close inspection, one sees the darkness and complexity of the narrative. “Colours,” she says, “are frozen energies. They are symbolic and powerful conveyors of emotional information. In a world dominated by the left-brain rationale, I look for any opportunity to trigger the right-brain awakenings. I feel that colour is greatly underestimated, and therefore, under-utilised. It has unfortunately become largely synonymous with decorative references, and I do whatever I can to reverse this. All around us, we see symptoms of environmental pollution, corruption, inequality and depression. All of this is conveniently overshadowed by garish advertising telling us to buy things we do not need. It is this mind space that I attempt to hijack with a very deliberate colour palette.”
A combination of tradition and modernity is what she chooses as her favourite medium. “I like to mix things up, therefore, each artistic story or collection comes with different reference points or ‘hooks’ to enable the viewer an easy access to what I am trying to get across. My priority as an artist is to communicate efficiently, so my mediums are chosen accordingly.”