What kind of a year has 2019 been for you?
As ever, juggling different things, mainly good, but definitely the bad is in there too. My main graft has been behind the scenes trying to put in place funding, partners and other support in order for 2020 to be predominantly art-making. As usual this journey had its ups and downs but fingers crossed I think I’m in a good place going into next year.
I’ve also been doing a number of performance commissions for dance companies and independent dance artists, like Transitions Dance Company and Hemabharathy Palani, and provided the artistic framework for the Sadler’s Wells Young Associates’ show on the main stage. Directing stage shows has also giving me the itch to perform again so let’s see what happens next year.
I enjoyed being part of a group show ‘Kaleidoscope’ at Somerset House over the summer, which was curated by Ekow Eshun and Darrell Vydelingum. I’m also chuffed to be selected to be part of a-n’s Artists Council – it feels empowering to be part of a group of artists working to make things fairer for all artists.
In the autumn I went through a pretty low funk. Of feeling fatigued, feeling like my career was stagnating, and generally feeling unmotivated and uncreative. It happens sometimes and I’ve given up trying to predict the hows and the whens. This time, immediately following this were a number of back-to-back highs, most of which I can’t announce until the new year, but the highest being winning the Film London Jarman Award 2019. This was a mega surprise that I’m still processing and trying to not feel guilty about celebrating. It’s also given me a boost for the films I’m making next year.
What has changed for the better?
Despite being a performer I’m also an introvert, so by design I’m a bit of loner. But this year I’ve been feeling really nourished personally, professionally and artistically by connecting with other artists like Imran Perretta, Rehana Zaman, Jasleen Kaur, Michelle Williams Gamaker, Larry, Achiampong, David Blandy, Beatrice Gibson and others. I hadn’t met most of them before and sometimes the connection has been too brief as everyone is super busy, but still impactful for me, and I’m hoping for more of it next year.
The Jarman Award has felt like a big step up for me professionally. While I’m still trying to give myself the permission to celebrate the win, even just to be in the shortlist with artists I respect and admire, and seeing my work tour the UK alongside theirs was a thrill that I’ll keep with me. I’m hoping the change that will come from it is my starting to be acknowledged as a British artist, rather than just being invited for diaspora shows or shows focused on ethnicity.
What do you wish had happened this year, but didn’t?
I wish Labour had won the general election. We need revolution. I’m generally an optimist but I can’t process this at the moment. Even though I’m not surprised the Tories won, I do feel the depressing numbness that was ignited in 2016 with the start of Brexit and Trump getting elected. I know I’ll feel positive and fired up again, but not yet.
What would you characterise as your major achievement this year and why?
In part it would be the Jarman Award – the whole journey including the tour of all of our works, put together by the brilliant FLAMIN team. Also the prize money will make a big difference. Often as an artist you’re having to deliver more and more with less and less, so the money feels like it’ll buy me a bit of breathing space and quell a little of the ever-present cash worries. At least for a bit.
Mainly though I feel grateful to have come out of the low funk I was in and really feel it is an achievement for any artist, particular mid-career artists, to be carrying on doing what they do. I think we all go through these low points, they’re never one-offs, and I feel like you have to find a different route out of it every time.
Is there anything you’d like to have done this year but haven’t?
I need to start exercising. I’m embarrassingly unfit. I’d like to feel healthier.
What would make 2020 a better year than 2019?
To take off my ‘producer/fundraiser’ hat and instead make lots of art. To be able to realise the ideas that sit waiting in my notebook, in my laptop and in my body.
I’d like to find a way that my artistic ambitions can co-exist with protecting my mental health. This is always really difficult as typically I’ve put too much weight on validation from a few gatekeepers and institutions, when in reality I’m happiest when I’m knee deep in the obsession of making work. I’ve rarely hit a healthy balance but I am working on it, partly by talking with other artists.
I also want to find hope again about the possibility of fairness in our world. I’d like to feel there is a good way forward from the political shitstorm we are in. I hope to be at full strength so I can be more active in contributing to the change we need.
1. Hetain Patel
2. Hetain Patel, The Jump (film still), 2015. Courtesy: the artist and Chatterjee & Lal
3. Hetain Patel, Don’t Look at the Finger, 2017, film installation, New Art Gallery Walsall. Courtesy: New Art Gallery Walsall
4. Hetain Patel, Don’t Look At The Finger (film still), 2017. Courtesy: the artist and Chatterjee & Lal