THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
Hetain Patel – American Man
Hetain Patel is a British Asian performance artist who hails from Bolton and whose work spans both the gallery and the performance art space. This new piece takes up where his earlier solo show, American Boy, left off. In that Patel played a nerdy Latino American character, Real Deal Spidey, who uploaded videos of himself dressed as Spider-man and wittered on.
Now Spidey has a girlfriend and a job and he decides to sheds this second skin. When he peels it off however another skin is revealed underneath, a full body white skin, the idea being that in the real world this is the skin that gets you places. It's a touching moment, artfully executed, but the piece then shudders to a halt in terms of insight.
In the subsequent sections, in his own skin, he dons a peach trouser suit and engages in not very accurate mimicry, lampooning easy targets such as instructional internet videos peddling empowerment to women or demonstrating alpha male body postures to men. There are sections using rap and a deliberately opaque one spoken in Gujarati.
He then imagines a dystopian future where even his hero Obama has turned sour and is the Head of Apple Inc. peddling a programme of self-actualisation to “authentic misogynists” where they must impersonate their liberal enemies. The idea and hope of Obama was central to the genesis of this piece but then November 8 happened and his whole raison d'etre got swept away. He got Trumped, in effect.
What grates about the piece is its causal use of politics without engaging coherently with any of the arguments. Your average stand-up would have tackled this terrain with more rigour and would have had to be funny in the process. In the world of performance art no such disciple applies, sadly. He's said in an interview he wasn't interested in a topical piece, which is totally disingenuous.
Back to the drawing board, I feel, where, post Trump, the real battles about race, gender and identity politics which are quickly coming down stream will make this trifle seem rather flippant.