What do we think? What are we attracted to? What do we spend our time and energy on?

Excerpts from various interviews:
Question: What inspires you the most while working on a project?
Ketna answers: Anyone who offers ‘original thinking’. The less conditioned, the better. Thoughts that do not even have to had an ‘educational’ underpinning, but melded out of keen and authentic observations of ‘life’, and the human condition. One such person is ‘Osho’, also known as ‘Rajneesh’. Clarissa Pinkola Estes is another one. She is controversial for proposing that both assimilation and holding to ethnic traditions are the ways to contribute to creative culture and to a soul-based civility. Everyday people inspire me.
I see the world becoming more and more about ‘people’, and less about ‘things’. A lot of creativity today gets diluted in a commercial attempt to please everybody, with the emphasis on bottom line profits for anonymous shareholders. I can envision the future being shaped by virtual communities leaning on each other’s ‘free’ opinions rather than be the unwitting recipients of products thrust on us by the clever propaganda we are subjected to today. I foresee a return to individualism.

What’s the future of design?

I see the world becoming more and more about ‘people’, and less about ‘things’. A lot of creativity today gets diluted in a commercial attempt to please everybody, with the emphasis on bottom line profits for anonymous shareholders. I can envision the future being shaped by virtual communities leaning on each other’s ‘free’ opinions rather than be the unwitting recipients of products thrust on us by the clever propaganda we are subjected to today. I foresee a return to individualism.

What are your preoccupations about?

The increasing sense of bewilderment and hopelessness about our shifting times. So much seems to be in a state of flux; a lot of our role models seem hopelessly inadequate; everything is increasingly tainted by self interest, greed, corruption. The disintegration of moral authority (Politicians, Government, Institutions), the failure of Capitalism, corruption, the shrinking of the individual, the increase of homogenity; basically our farcical, hypcritical world! Who are we to believe? My new work reflects the hypocrisy of our times. It is a bleak scenario, and I choose to explore this subject with humour and irony. By constantly travelling, and tuning into various cultures, ages, income groups, professions etc, I feel like I am eavesdropping on a more universal conversation that provides fresh insights into where we really are, as a society living in the 21st century. Hope to try and empower the 'individual', and show the weakness of short term views held by corporate led governance. At least by reflecting the outer world in some true (albeit surreal compositions), I hope to trigger a recognition of this reality with the viewer, as ultimately, the goal is always to speak to the audience. By collecting enough 'nods' to the work, at least there is a way of tapping into the unexpressed.

What are you trying to communicate with the visual language you are using?

The blurring between 'reality' and 'virtual reality'. A 'HYPER REALITY'?
That we all live in 'Maya'; an illusion. We are all actors with a script, and can change the movie if we want!
Exaggerated colours to reflect the mass conditioning derived from brazen advertising everywhere.
A departure from traditional painting techniques to more 'art-vertorial' delivery so that at first glance, the viewer is not sure whether the work is Art or Advertising.

Ketna Patel’s recent Project ‘Asia Pop!’ hopes to extend the ongoing global conversations today about how peoples of the world are converging and overlapping their social, economic and cultural realms. As we all grapple with accelerated time and relentless adaptation, Ketna has chosen to focus in on everyday Asian ‘Street + Popular culture’ as a sort of ‘portal’ to enter and study further the contemporary phenomenon of Asians coming together; Asian society in a state of flux.
Ketna Patel speaks…..
I am a child of a diaspora. Like many others today, my rather fractured identity encapsulates the following:
Ethnically gujarati, (I hail from Karamsad - the same village as ‘Sardar Patel) Singaporean based, London educated transnational who spent the first fourteen years of her life in East Africa.
Although my passport is British, I cannot truly claim citizenship of any particular place. Growing up in East Africa, I had no idea that Asia would play such a large part in my life. My entry into India was through a weekly diet of Bollywood VCR’s, and I had a huge crush on Amitabh Bachan. (I think I still do!) My fantasy version of Prince Charming was an Indian Professor type in crumpled white cotton kurta pyjamas, in a library setting smoking a pipe. (Think Satyajit Ray). I am now divorced, happily single and exploring my own true SOUL identity devoid of all role playing and labels....its really a roller coaster ride into the unknown!
Architectural work, and a subconscious desire to escape everyone I knew took me to Singapore 25 years ago. It was only on this little island that I was imbued with a sense of the depth of ‘Asian civilization’; it was here I started rubbing shoulders with my hybrid identity – one that was not culture, gender, profession or geographical based. There was no support of a ‘pretend’ home; no dominant source culture that would impress itself upon me. No jazz clubs or leather jackets or British museums filled with Renaissance paintings. Back then, Singapore was bland and neutral enough for me to actually ‘wipe the slate clean’ somewhat, and be virgin to new thoughts and experiences. I did not know what I was attracted to until I tried it…..
Singapore is like an airport lounge. It’s a young country; fickle and dynamic….. It has methodically hot housed its desirability…..akin to a woman who is perfectly coiffered and groomed, and is beautiful in a perfect plastic way. For me, ‘this animal’ is compelling, for she / it denies her authentic self to the point of being a perfect chameleon, elastic accents and all. It tries on many personas, highlighting her best features and covering up her weaknesses. See……being displaced can be freeing!
Coming from the Indian-African background, I am aware of how conditioned we have been by the ‘British’ version of world events, and how this colonial education (for better or worse) may have locked us out of our own original thought and identity making. I am not talking about religious rituals or the stageset and props behind National Day Parades and Diwali festivals.…..I am referring to the ‘new 21st century, largely urban Asian’. Who is he or she?? And what is this modern Asian with the new, powerful voice saying and feeling? What do they look like?
Globalization, Consumerism, Advertising and ‘instant’ communication is changing the world very fast. That leaves us easy prey for often incongruous and out dated notions of a Westerner’s idea of modernity, which may not work for Asia. What made sense in the U.S or Europe, and was developed through hundreds of years of their particular history may not be appropriate for Asia. So senseless ‘aping’ is limiting, be it buying a branded handbag, Artwork or commissioning a British tudor style house. If we are not careful, we will become a Disneyland dumping ground for short sighted, greedy developers and ‘imported’ expressions that supposedly lend us status credibility. This is the time for us to delve into our rich, complex, layered narratives and identities, and have the courage of conviction to tell our OWN stories. We have to invest in our authentic creativity to be truly modern…..and of course, democratic freedom to express it! But first, we have to really ‘see’ ourselves, and not just be fooled by our insecure projections of who we may want to be.
It is this self image, ethnic / national identity and the way we relate to each other that is what is under scrutiny in a lot of my work, which is ultimately about…..people. I try and chronicle their stories when they are the least self-conscious, and this I find in ‘the street’. This is where we reveal ourselves….where we collectively say more than we know. These information highways are full of information and clues as to where we came from and where we may be heading. I am not attempting to romanticize the past, but rather ‘re-validate’ it by showing the interconnectedness between our past, present and future.
In an era of fast communication, market driven consumerism and celebrity culture, the ‘common man’ is becoming increasingly marginalized. His or her thoughts remain largely unexpressed, in lieu of rather inane soundbytes perpetuated by politicians or actors. Media driven marketing has to a great extent replaced the ‘authentic’ voice. Using photographs I have taken of people and places visited and experienced, together with text from ‘found’ reading material (newspapers, magazines, junk brochures, menus etc), I collage and make up narratives that speak of a larger societal change. Taking a huge magnifying glass, I attempt to zoom in and ‘POP’ the story/ies behind the ‘common man’, and Asian Street Culture, and in doing that, hopefully hold up a mirror back to ourselves.
Hidden in ordinary, everyday people and the stories around them, I sometimes stumble upon myself. I may know about Design, Architecture and Western Art History, but I also feel I have been brainwashed time and again by this flat, heavy educational conditioning, which is now even informing / encroaching on lifestyle decisions. When I am travelling, staying with Naga babas in Kumbh melas, or with the masaai tribe in Kenya, I realize that these individuals have probably never drank coffee from Starbucks, never heard of Picasso, and most certainly do not have an I-Pad! I have much more to learn from these individuals about the latent ‘de-conditioned’ person in me than I could ever from the metropolitan stage set I live in, which has made an urban slave out of me. There are no victims in this world….and to a large extent, I believe we design our lives and complexities in order to ultimately ‘graduate’ from them. Life is one long boot camp! However, I cannot help feeling that the small percentage of people in the world who have access to high information, travel and a genuine ‘open mindedness’ are turning into Ostriches. Are we burying our heads in the sand? Are we bombarded with information and generally overwhelmed?
Have we sold our freedom and individuality for a life in which almost all decision making is quietly being consumed by the illusion than the reality, by games rather than face to face communication?
For me, the intellectual / academic world is limiting, and, in my opinion, has too often been used to justify or substantiate recent artistic expression. Man does not live by decree or ideology, but by his or her own sense of purpose. The mass consciousness that belongs to the whole planet is emotive in its outset. More than ever, the world is busy, noisy, and explosive. There is heat in our bodies, from unexpressed words, to heat above us in the skies, from too much synthetic energy. The world is cracking up, but we are forever multi tasking, rushing around like ants on Prozac!
The recent collection of work in the ‘ASIA POP!’ series also speaks / pokes fun at the tenuous yet volatile relationship between China and India in the context of the ‘Super Power’ shift. Straddling between these two giants today, millions of conversations are taking place. It feels like the proverbial race between the tortoise and the hare, and feelings of competition, insecurity, envy and mutual fascination reign high. While China seems to have dominated the headlines, India has been making tracks in the background. Both countries operate on a different emotional frequency. At the risk of generalization, China is logical, practical, strategic; very ‘Confuscian’ in its approach. India on the other hand is chaotic, emotional, democratic, expressive, ‘right brained’, steeped in religion, superstition and the caste system. The head on collision between the past and the present in both these countries is creating huge changes and upheavals in people’s habits, lifestyles, their values and the ways in which they negotiate their own identities.
‘ASIA POP’ is also a marriage of Art and Advertising, making it ‘ART-VERTISING’ ?
As per the original manifesto behind Project ‘ASIA POP!’, I have been open to all alternative ‘surfaces’ as vehicles for cultural messaging. With so much technology around us, it is fun to experiment with different applications and usages. Many of us are having a bit of an identity crisis. We are fast losing control on how to express the ‘real’ us, as we become increasingly enslaved by fads, latest phone models etc. It is a consumerist trap. I would like to hijack this mindspace by bringing my work into public places, where people literally ‘stumble’ across it. I am particularly attracted to spaces which symbolize cultural crossroads; waiting rooms, airport lounges, streets, taxi interiors etc are perfect transient galleries where I could insert my vocabulary. Also, by marrying my work with utilitarian applications, I deliberately try and blur the lines between high art, popular art, design and lifestyle.
The mediums I use are deliberately chosen to communicate the underlying symbolism behind the work. For example, to demonstrate our media saturated world, I use plexiglass instead of traditional canvas and paint for some of my stories. Also, in the consumerist, capitalistic system of today, I think that the line between Art, design and lifestyle is becoming increasingly blurred. So I demonstrate this by using alternative utilitarian surfaces as messaging devices to communicate my stories. These can range from furniture, fashion, to a rickshaw or car!
Colour represents the emotional frequency of a country. Bubble gum pinks, lime green, vermillion, powder blue, sunflower yellow……these are sun saturated colours found in everyday Indian culture. One may be hardpressed to find them in Copenhagen or Helsinki, but think of Gujarat, Karnataka, Orissa, and its definitely not a grey, monochromatic visualization! Our culture has ‘sunlight’ embedded in every aspect of it. This finds its way into stories, mythologies, rituals, architecture, clothes, music, even cuisine! Also, I feel that a lot of our ‘identity making’ today is borne out of media led virtual interfaces, be it cable TV or the Internet or giant Advertising billboards. We are more exposed to the above than we are to ‘real Art’. Virtual colours found in our computers and brochures speak of an exagerarrated reality. So, the question in a lot of my work is….”Is it Art or Advertising”? Perhaps its ART-VERTISING??
In summary, Project ‘ASIA POP!’ is an exploration into how our consumerist world has become an extension of our ‘identity’, and the modern ‘blurring’ between Art, Advertising, Lifestyle, Privacy and individual expression.
‘ASIA POP!’ tries to compress an illustrious past, a changing present and a rapidly unfolding future, so the observer gets multiple messages. The collages are at once personal and impersonal, encouraging us to make a reappraisal of received ideas.
‘ASIA POP!’ grapples to understand a new culture that emerges as the fallout from globalization and the new modern / urban. It casts recent emergent ideas over old traditions, culture, outlook and relationships, and either overturns conventional notions or reveals the tensions underlying the fusion of old and new.
I hope you can try and see ‘ASIA POP!’ as a warm, heartfelt mix of lively conversations taking place in a friendly room surrounded by colour, art and all things Asian, whatever that might mean to each of you. Perhaps by saying it aloud, or ‘painting’ it out, I am manifesting the subconscious into the conscious. Perhaps something from this project will resonate with other thoughts and expressions out there, and birth something else…..who knows?? I feel compelled to try.