Sacred Bodies 2004/5

In 2003, Hetain’s practice began with photographic self-portraiture, albeit with a performative element. Since then he has been interested in using his own body as a site for identity interrogation.

His practical experiments began with a focus on pigments from the Indian rituals and ceremonies he has grown up with at home. These pigments for him here in England have been strong signifiers of Indian identity, and include the red pigment Kanku more commonly used to mark a dot on the Hindu forehead, and henna paste (Mehndi), more commonly used to decorate the hands and feet of an Indian bride to be. The Kanku and Mehndi works show the end result of self imposed rituals in which the artist takes up to six hours to decorate his own body with these materials. He is interested in what it means to mark his own skin with these pigments and the metaphor of coating himself with a second skin- one which stains the surface for up to three weeks but then needs to be repeatedly reapplied and redefined. Reflecting his western eye, the aesthetic of the photographs and time-lapse videos are heavily influenced by fashion studio photography.

Gajra, also from the this series references the Hindu wedding ceremony in the same self-imposed manner, taking time to make and wrap his own body with an exaggeratedly long garland, going beyond adornment almost into restraint. Here he is also interested in the different signification of flowers: As something offered in both celebration and condolence: these photographs make reference to Hindu funeral rituals during which flowers are used to cover the body as it lies in the coffin.

Kanku (left panel from triptych), 2003
Lambda Prints
117cm x 117cm (each panel)

Mehndi (right panel of triptych), 2004
C-type photograph
76cm x 76cm (each panel)

Mehndi, 2004
C-type photograph
76cm x 76cm (each panel)

Mehndi 2, 2004
C-type photograph
76cm x 76cm (each panel)

Mehndi 3, 2004
C-type photograph
76cm x 76cm

Mehndi 4, 2004
C-type photograph
76cm x 76cm

Gajra 2, 2004
C-type photograph
76cm x 76cm

Mehndi 5, 2005
C-type photograph
76cm x 81cm

Mehndi 6, 2005
C-type photograph
76cm x 81cm

Mehndi 7, 2005
C-type photograph
76cm x 86cm

Masking Text, 2003
C-type photograph
76cm x 76cm