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Digital lyric sheet designed by outsider graphics artist Stefan Sadler

Digital lyric sheet designed by outsider graphics artist Stefan Sadler

Rishi Ritch & BAMEstorm, 2021, Aspex, Portsmouth, England

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Press Release

Rishi Ritch and BAMEstorm are two new recorded audio works by artist Hardeep Pandhal for Aspex’s 40th anniversary programme of digital commissions, Aspex (life begins) at 40.

Pandhal’s commission is presented as two tracks, each accompanied by a poster artwork featuring the lyrics performed by the artist. The poster artworks can be viewed on the screen whilst listening to the audio and can also be downloaded as high resolution posters, which can be printed at home.

Both Rishi Ritch and BAMEstorm discuss race and Pandhal’s experiences of racial inequality within academia and the art world. BAME, a widely used acronym for ‘Black, Asian Minority Ethnic’ features in both sets of lyrics. The phrase has been heavily critiqued by writers and academics and in this work Pandhal uses repetition to lampoon BAME and POC (people of colour) almost beyond them making any sense.

In Rishi Ritch Pandhal also repeats ‘rich’ and ‘I’m so rich’ so much that it arguably loses any currency. In both tracks the artist talks about wealth and economic inequality, and even the title refers to the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, who is reported to have considerable private wealth, and has held one of the most visible positions in British politics since February 2020.

As well as Sunak, Pandhal refers to others by name including Home Secretary Priti Patel and the first ruler of the Sikh Empire, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Singh has featured in a number of Pandhal’s works, and as a militaristic, sword wielding figure he also appears, decapitated and emasculated on the poster artworks.

‘The motif of a headless Sikh horseman is a conflation of Ranjit Singh and Baba Deep Singh, whose decapitated body, legend has it, continued to fight the Afghan army during the 1757 Battle of Amritsar. I envisaged my figure as a prototypical fantasy character, who I hope will one day find home in a dark, Sikh-inspired Sword and Sorcery universe created by me and some friends. Images of auto-decapitation and supernaturally displaced heads are open to multiple interpretations. I like to think of these motifs as conveying emasculation, ejaculation (speech-oral/orgasmic-sexual), but also an openness to inexplicable or beheaded forms of consciousness. Essentially, it’s about losing one’s head(s), becoming headless and more egalitarian in spirit.’ – Hardeep Pandhal 2021

This cartoonish violence is consistent across Hardeep Pandhal’s practice, and interweaves his interests in horror and fantasy. Peppered throughout the lyrics are references to wizards, wisdom trees, lichs and sardonic harmonies. The backing music is disconcerting and the intermittent screams in BAMEstorm, sampled from skate videos, feel particularly sinister without knowing their source.

Pandhal layers complex references and resists a single narrative or interpretation of these works. He states that “the best lesson was quarantine” but doesn’t pin down what he’s referring to; allowing space for our own reflection on what has been learnt from a global pandemic and multiple lockdowns.

As well as a drawing practice Hardeep Pandhal has achieved recognition for video works combining rap or spoken narration with animated drawings. For this commission Pandhal was invited to develop audio, foregrounding his lyrics and distinctive style of rapping, inspired by the rapper Lil B and his “Based” philosophy, which preaches positivity and tolerance through his music. Rishi Ritch and BAMEstorm were produced with support from Joe Howe and Stef Sadler AKA Snuffy The Vampire Slayer. The poster artworks simultaneously work as engaging posters, reiterating his choice of words and as a means for anyone who is D/deaf or hard of hearing to experience Pandhal’s work.