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Spider-Man and I

Three questions with British-Indian artist Hetain Patel

Q. Tell us about your latest exhibition, The Other Suit, and the inspiration behind it?
A. The exhibition introduces my fascination with the mass communicative powers of Hollywood and the entertainment industries. As an avid consumer, I employ similar tropes in these works, particularly through the displacement of the popular culture icon Spider-Man.

Hetain Patel making the mask
Hetain Patel making the mask 

Q. What are the highlights of this exhibition?
A. In the two channel video installation, The Amazing DIYers, I’m showing an edited collection of YouTube videos that chart teenagers sharing tutorials of making their own costumes, aiming to be movie-accurate to The Amazing Spider-Man films. Alongside this plays a time-lapse of my own suit making.

Over last year, I’ve made two Spider-Man costumes. The first, featured in my performance American Boy, can be seen in this exhibition in the photographs: Baa’s House 1 & 2, that document my grandmother and I in her living room in Bolton UK, where I was born. I’m sitting masked in my first home, in front of family photographs spanning 40 years, next to my grandmother, the instigator of the family migration.

Baa’s House, a photograph that is part of the exhibition, showcasing Hetain Patel (in the Spider-Man costume) sitting with his grandmother in her living room in Bolton UK, where he was born
Baa’s House, a photograph that is part of the exhibition, showcasing Hetain Patel (in the Spider-Man costume) sitting with his grandmother in her living room in Bolton UK, where he was born

The sculpture, Letter to Peter Parker is the result of three months of hand writing a thank you letter to Peter Parker, the man behind Spider-Man’s mask. The words patterned to form the costume are stretched over a cast taken from my body. Where Parker puts on the mask to hide his identity, I thank him for creating a mask that diverts attention from my aim of disguising my skin colour. For the multi-screen video installation, The Other Suit, I perform a range of male archetypes from Hollywood.

Q. What are the views you seek to convey on pop culture?
A. One of the most important aspects to my work is the breaking down of stereotypes. This is why I place the supposed high and lowbrow worlds of pop culture and contemporary art in one space. To feel guilty about my love of pop culture would be to deny who I am. Art-going audiences and non-art going ones are also stereotyped into what their tastes might be.

By displacing Spider-Man, I wanted to connect the minority identity with mainstream recognition of a pop culture figure. In a Western context, I feel like my first job is to de-exoticise myself before I can do anything else. On the surface, Spider-Man seems displaced, but there are many things that tie him to me; he’s essentially an artist trying to figure himself and the world around him. I aim to reveal the slipperiness of our identities to promote freedom from restrictions.

Till February 28, 11 am to 7 pm At Chatterjee & Lal, Arthur Bunder Road, Colaba. 
Call 22023787

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