Baa's Gold, 2021 Painting
Baa’s Gold is a deeply personal, first exhibition of paintings from Hetain Patel (Bolton, 1980), revisiting his relationship to family, immigration and, re-appropriating his family's place in British society.
Against the backdrop of his earlier video work To Dance Like Your Dad (2009), this new series of paintings takes its aesthetic cues from the gleaming black car paint of each hearse his father’s garage produced. In making these paintings, Patel walks in his father’s footsteps, though not quite as literally as in the carefully observed choreography filmed in the Bolton garage. Picked out in gold detailing, the subject of these high gloss mise-en-scenes follows yet another influence on Patel’s life - his late grandmother Lakshmiben Patel, who his family all called “Baa”, meaning “Mother” in Gujarati.
Baa and her family immigrated from Gujarat, North India, via Kenya to the northern city of Bolton in 1967. There, a large Victorian terrace became home to several generations of Patels, including Hetain until his parents were able to move out to a home of their own. This cross-generational household marked the artist’s early years and created a special bond between him, his family and the house whose details are brought back to life in this exhibition, recreated after Baa’s passing and the subsequent sale of the house.
Knowing that Hindu widows are only supposed to wear real gold bangles, in 2015 a gang of masked, gloved men broke into the 89-year-old’s home during the middle of the day where she lived alone.
During this traumatic ordeal, her home was ransacked and her gold bangles forcefully taken from her wrists. At close quarters, she could see through their eye holes that all the men in the group were white. As they made their escape, far from being crushed, in what Patel describes as her “fierce spirit", Baa shouted after them to “get back here and tidy all this up before you leave!”
Five years after this violent event, Patel’s new paintings look to retrieve Baa’s Gold - a metaphor for everything that has been taken from his family via the systemic racism experienced in the UK since Patel’s birth and before. From horrific events such as the assault on an elderly woman to daily microaggressions that form the backdrop of his lived experience as a man of colour, this exhibition wants to highlight these dynamics and transform them.
The images on the boards reproduce in geometrical, gold embossed lines both family photographs and distinctive patterns from Baa’s house such as 70’s floral carpets and window netting, all against a backdrop of black high gloss car paint. Taking photographs at home has long been a family tradition, a way to record history on their own terms.
Part of an ongoing interest in inserting historically marginalised narratives into mainstream culture, the aspect ratio of each painting is that of IMAX cinema, referring to film, Patel’s primary medium. Panels of painted text tell different versions of the burglary written as scenes from a screenplay: one gives the real version of events, while others diverge into the redemptive fiction of action and thriller films, echoing Quentin Tarantino and Bong Joon Ho.
"The geometrical drawing style I chose references the design of the 80’s Transformers cartoons — a recurring metaphor for cultural and social transformation in my work. As for the gold, as a family, survival has always been about alchemy - turning adversity into opportunity, lead into gold”
Acrylic and lacquer on board—
Landscape: 125cm x 89cm ; Portrait: 89cm x 125cm—