Bepen Bhana

An Auck­land-based in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary artist ob­serves pop­u­lar cul­ture and cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion, says Balam­o­han Shin­gade.

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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

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