Hetain Patel’s first car was a 1988 Ford Fiesta gifted to him by his father as he turned 17. For the artist, born in the UK to immigrant Indian parents, the passing of a car between generations provided him with his first taste of independence. In this new work, the artist turns his hands to a newly acquired 1988 Ford Fiesta of the same specifications as his original car to create his first sculpture. Manufactured in England, this car stands as a symbol of working class Britain, a native body, albeit here a car body.
Another significant influence for the artist and this work are Transformers, an American film and toy franchise since 1984, and a widely recognisable pop culture reference that reaches far back in Hetain’s memory. In this new sculpture, Transformers have been made manifest, physically, in a literal transformation of a Ford Fiesta car into a large-scale squatting human-like figure. For the artist, these ‘robots in disguise’ (as per the cartoon’s theme tune) stand as a metaphor for the other, in a fantasy world where they can transform out of a marginal position into one of empowerment.
Importantly, Hetain and his father, Pravin Patel, created this sculpture together, with additional help from his engineer brother and fellow Transformers enthusiast, Pritum Patel. His father, whose day job is to convert cars into hearses and limousines for funerals, has carried out all the fabrication and structural work with Hetain. This work is the third in an ongoing collaboration between the pair (other works are: video work, To Dance Like Your Dad, 2009 and live performance Me and me Dad and me Wife, 2012, both presented in 2012 at the Tanks at Tate Modern).
Unlike the popular toys and films, however, the car here is not a high-powered sports car or truck transformed into a powerful warrior, but rather a small inexpensive Ford Fiesta transformed into a human-like figure calmly squatting. This posture is a recurring image in Hetain’s work and forges a link between the lower classes in India and his immigrant family in the U.K, both of whom sit comfortably this way. Naturally this introduces a tension in this sculpture between the seemingly submissive nature of the squat and in this case, it’s oddly larger than life scale.
As an artist who is most often the main protagonist in his work, this sculpture is the first time that the artist’s representation of the body is not immediately visibly linked to his ethnicity. The material and aesthetic of the work lend themselves to wider interpretations and contradictions around identity, exploring the increasingly murky ground between reality and fantasy, fixed identity and transformation.