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Installation view

Photo: Keith Hunter

Installation view

Photo: Keith Hunter

Happy Thuggish Paki, HD Animation, 21 minutes 26 seconds

Photo: Keith Hunter

Brittany’s Final Assignment, short fiction by the artist David Steans, free-to-take booklet

Photo: Keith Hunter

Installation view

Photo: Keith Hunter

Viking King’s Depression, Indian ink, gouache, watercolour pencil on paper. 76cm x 56cm

Photo: Patrick Jameson

Spectral Scripts Reluctantly Festoon Tantric Dungeon, Indian ink, gouache, watercolour pencil on paper. 76cm x 56cm

Photo: Patrick Jameson

Harlequin’s Penultimate Confession, Indian ink, gouache, watercolour pencil on paper. 76cm x 56cm

Photo: Patrick Jameson

White Devil’s Banshee Romance, Indian ink, gouache, watercolour pencil on paper. 76cm x 56cm

Photo: Patrick Jameson

Blighted Banshee Rides Out Remorsefully, Indian ink, gouache, watercolour pencil on paper. 76cm x 56cm

Photo: Patrick Jameson

Mango Kushan’s Ransacked Tavern, Indian ink, gouache on paper. 76cm x 56cm

Photo: Patrick Jameson

Deflecting Swarthy Reflections From Bog-Water-Upon-Heaven, Indian ink, gouache, watercolour pencil on paper. 76cm x 56cm

Photo: Patrick Jameson

Confessions Of A Thug: Pakiveli, 2020

Tramway, Glasgow, Scotland

 

Press Release

Confessions of a Thug: Pakiveli is a multimedia exhibition whose title takes its name from the pulp fiction of 1839 Confessions of a Thug by the Orientalist writer Phillip Meadows Taylor. The exhibition’s subtitle Pakiveli refers to one of the artist’s rap monikers, adapted from an alias of the late rapper 2pac, Makiveli. Taking the premise that heritage is constituted through performative and discursive practices, this exhibition reflects Pandhal’s ongoing exploration into the ways in which identities are subject to conflicting realities that shift over time and place.

Pandhal takes as a starting point the historical application of the word thug, which originated in British-India to name a so-called religious cult of murderers. Although opinion is divided, many believe that thugs were politically sensationalised by the British to appear innately criminal. The fiction Confessions of a Thug mentioned above is exemplary of such sensationalism. It was adapted from real British criminal records and took the form of a deposition of a supposed ‘thug’. Pandhal draws analogies between the racialised myth making of such fictions and broader forms of proscription.

Bridging different contexts, Pandhal has approached this exhibition as an exaggerated deposition, by connecting practices of associative thinking and elliptical wordplay akin to rap production across a wide range of subject matter and media formats.

Drawings, textiles and sculptures are layered with Pandhal’s trickster-daemonic symbolism. The imagery and lyrical cues emanating from these works are playfully crossed referenced in the projected video Happy Thuggish Paki. A flat screen monitor plays a short YouTube clip from the conspiracy theorist Brother Panic, who connects the life of deceased rapper 2pac with lore of the Hindu goddess Kali. A short fiction by the artist David Steans appears in free-to-take booklets.

Each drawing includes an adaptation of the artist’s own cartoon muse, a British Indian colonial soldier, now in the form a headless horseman who appears entwined with the surrounding world. Symbols of constraint demarcate and decorate the visual fields, which reference steampunk aesthetics, the work of William Hogarth and the fiction Grendel by John Gardner, amongst other references. The ‘thug’ origin myth is recounted in the format of a superhero comic strip. Buildings are emblazoned with the titles of rap albums. Scrawled rhymes and other marginalia simultaneously deface and balance each composition.

A series of used cricket jumpers and garments knitted by Pandhal’s mother are hung from boxing bag holders. They are reworked with embroidered designs that protrude outwards, emitting dangly lengths of yarn. Pandhal shares a Punjabi/English language barrier with his mother, who is first generation British-Sikh, and considers his embroidery work as a form of defacement that chimes with the generational and wider cultural conflicts between himself and his parents’ culture.

The glass sculptures, which were fabricated by glass artists under Pandhal’s guidance, are adapted from Passion Bottles; philosophical toys associated with a band of itinerant French glass artists from the 18th century. Although very little is known about ‘Passion Bottles’, preliminary research indicates they were used in both religious contexts and magic shows. The floating votives, which were also known as Cartesian Devil’s, were said to respond to commands, like spirits communicating through mediums. Users would adjust the pressure of the water inside by slyly pressing down on a flexible membrane at the top of the bottle, which would cause the Cartesian Devils to descend and spin.

The video work Happy Thuggish Paki begins with footage of Pandhal ruminating on his animation process. This is cut to a scene in which a clip from the animated cartoon series Pac Man, based on the popular 80s video game, is digitally nested into an animated scene constructed by Pandhal. The Pac Man cartoon did not receive an adequate translation between the USA, where it was produced, to the UK, where Pandhal had seen it as a child. Pac Man’s wife, Ms Pac Man, is repeatedly heard nicknaming her husband as ‘paki’. The sound of Ms Pac Man saying ‘paki’ has been sampled and then edited into the sound design that inhabits the subsequent sections of the video, where slow and recursive animated sequences are cut to a dense and associative lyrical voiceover delivered by Pandhal. This part includes gameplay footage of Pandhal playing the browser-based game Osamagotchi, a game which oscillates between a torture simulator and a pet simulator. The final part shows Pandhal attempting to recall the names of his former school peers from an old class photo.

Throughout this exhibition the themes of play (including self-play), defacement, puppetry, illusion and myth making emerge and recur. This work also testifies to Pandhal’s interest in the Happy Gothic, a term used in Gothic studies to describe the more humanising Gothic forms appearing in mainstream culture. This exhibition is intended to redefine the playing field of the Happy Gothic genre by intervening in its habits of whiteness, and to engage with the myriad forms of pleasurable fear undergoing consumption today.