An Auckland-based interdisciplinary artist observes popular culture and cultural appropriation, says Balamohan Shingade.
The internet is frequently ‘blowing up’ with accusations of cultural appropriation. Last year, in Coldplay’s video ‘Hymn for the Weekend’, Beyoncé awkwardly starred as a bejewelled Bollywood bride, who was incompletely adorned in henna. Triggerhappy Tweeters pounced at the imprecision, the apparent commodification of ceremonial dress and at the waft of a stereotypical portrayal of India as unduly exotic. Bepen Bhana usually finds himself in this mix as an artist and a careful observer of pop culture. His recent exhibition Hey Bey, of dizzying paintings of Beyoncé, attends to this moment of hysteria to study cultural appropriation and cultural hybridity in our increasingly globalised and networked world. Bepen’s art trafficks in such mixing-up of identities, and if it’s difficult to tell on which side he stands in the dung-flinging contest of cultural wars, it’s because his ambivalence reveals something underlying. In Frankie Goes to Bollywood, for example, the paintings of Bollywood stars in New Zealand landscapes are more properly a story of how New Zealand supplanted Switzerland as the freshest and most exotic location in Hindi cinema. The intrigue of Bhana’s artwork is a palette that incorporates the Basil Brush show on the one hand and Billu Barber on the other, of the Brady Bunch and Bobby Deol, of the bindi and the beach in the outwardly simple.
1. Untitled (work in progress, Sajid Khan project). 2. Untitled (work in progress, Sajid Khan project). 3. ‘Hymn for the Weak End’, Suite II, Number III. 3