I clearly recall the first time I met Hetain Patel.
I was representing Phoenix on a consortium exploring culturally diverse work. We were in Nottingham – the Lakeside to be exact – and at lunchtime we were taken up to meet Hetain in his studio (he was then artist in residence at the Lakeside).
Hetain immediately struck me as a quite, thoughtful and unassuming artist. through his stillness you were immediately aware of his presence. And when he spoke there was a intensity, intelligence and lightness of touch (words that I would learn could equally be used to describe his work).
Hetain explained how his early work explored issues of cultural responsibility. On his web site he writes:-
‘In my family, I am part of the first generation to be British born. I am also aware of the sacrifices and tribulations my parents and relatives have gone through to emmigrate from India to the U.K to provide my generation with a ‘better’ life.
With this in mind, how should I deal with the sense of guilt I feel from how western I have become?’
His projects Cultural Responsibility, Lagan and Sacred Bodies feature giant photographic self portraits of his body beautifully – sometimes fiercely – painted. Audiences had become fascinated by the process so one or two were invited into the studio – and in time that became time based performances (see here).
Four years later I see TEN at the Milton Keynes International Festival. TEN is a fully blown performance piece – the photography left behind. But those questions around the body, around identity, around cultures very much remain. Hetain is joined by two different drummers Dave ‘Stickman’ Higgins ( a Lancastrian of West Indian and Irish parentage) and Mark Evans (of Scotland). Through the simple metaphor of the drum the show looks at the meeting place between the red dot on the Hindu forehead and the red St George’s cross on the English flag. What is behind this need to belong?
TEN defies easy categorisation. Despite the fact its being championed by Nott Dance (the East Midlands Dance Agency) its not dance (though there is lots of movement in it). Nor is it music – though the show features three drummers. Its not visual art – though Hetain is a visual artist. I guess you could make an arguement thats its theatre or live art but I’m not sure it really matters – its just good work.
With issues of identity and cultural diversity back on the political agenda (did it ever drop off the agenda) its great to be presenting TEN at Dartington – direct in fact from a triumphant run at the Sydney Festival. Just like those first impressions I had of Hetain TEN is quiet, thoughtful, intense and strangely hypnotic. Above all – though – with a very few words its a performance that says an awful lot.