The Phantom BAME is a new solo exhibition by artist Hardeep Pandhal which confronts post-colonial traumas with testing humour. Commissioned by New Art Exchange and Primary and curated by Melanie Kidd and Niki Russell, Paranoid Picnic: The Phantom BAME is a cross-site exhibition taking place across two sites in Nottingham (UK): New Art Exchange (NAE) and Primary. This dual setting creates what the artist describes as ‘parodic parallel worlds’ into which he projects his frustration of societal structures.
Pandhal typically works with non-linear forms of digital video which layer lurid hand drawn cartoons, psychedelic and disorienting narratives with his own deadpan rap music. For Paranoid Picnic, Pandhal has created a new video installation to be presented at Primary. The piece, exploring themes of heritage, acts of remembering and nostalgia, samples scenes from the BBC mini-series Cranford (2007), a Neo-Victorian adaption of Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic fiction.
‘By representing the past, albeit in often far-fetched or whimsical ways, my intention is to playfully evoke a sense of anachronism – the act of attributing something to a period to which it does not belong – as a way of writing back or confronting the past,’ – Hardeep Pandhal.
The works presented at NAE continue this dialogue, drawing on a range of historical influences to further Pandhal’s interest in ‘dissonant heritage’ – the way in which societal stories and identities are subject to conflicting realities that warp and shift through time.
The exhibits at NAE include an oversized hoodie, redefined by the artist as a cloak. Knitted by Pandhal’s mother, the cloak was then adorned with his own hand embroidery. Pandhal’s suggestive designs pull the threads tightly together, creating bodily-like protrusions. Pandhal and his mother are divided by language, he speaks little Punjabi, while she speaks little English.
What is lost in translation is found, hinting at things that are known without being spoken. The cloak is displayed unfinished, amongst a series of sculptural foregrounds. Perforated with semi-functional head holes, the foregrounds invite visitors to perform and play with identity. However, whilst the sculptures borrow from the distinctly British aesthetic of Victorian-era seaside amusements, the imagery at play comprises Karni Bharni (depictions of hell in popular Indian print culture), an adaptation of 2Pac’s posthumous album cover Makaveli, and an imagined collector character from the collaborative fiction, Monster Portraits, by novelists Sofia and Del Samatar.
Hand-drawings, the mainstay of Pandhal’s practice, frame the installation at both NAE and Primary. These include initial sketches for an ongoing graphic novel by Pandhal, tentatively entitled Desi Thugs. Ranging from works on paper to doodles-in-the margins type illustrations drawn freely on the gallery walls, the imagery offers a glimpse into Pandhal’s wider thinking and extends the social commentary feel of his practice.