I have been a reviewer for frieze magazine since 2012. Published reviews can be found at

Hardeep Pandhal, Castlefield Gallery, Manchester

Hardeep Pandhal, Baba Deep Thing by Mum, 2014. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes
Hardeep Pandhal, Baba Deep Thing by Mum, 2014. Photo: Joel Chester Fildes

The feeling of slight unease – of not being sure whether to be amused or appalled – that I experienced when walking round Hardeep Pandhal’s debut UK solo exhibition, wasn’t entirely unexpected. The show’s title, ‘A Joyous Thing with Maggots at the Centre’ – a phrase coined by the Australian anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner and also the title of a chapter in Michael Taussig’s Defacement, his 1999 book on the subject of ‘public secrecy’ – provided appropriate preparation for this tightly-packed collection of work spanning drawing, video, sculpture and the artist’s mum’s knitting.

It’s the latter that Pandhal – a 2013 graduate of Glasgow School of Art’s MFA – is perhaps best known for. In last year’s Bloomberg New Contemporaries, he showed jumpers emblazoned with barely recognizable representations of the rapper 2Pac and the documentary maker/explorer Bruce Parry. Here, an oversized white synthetic wool sweater depicted the decapitated Sikh saint and martyr Baba Deep Singh, his severed head at the end of the left arm, a bloody sword stitched to the right (Baba Deep Thing by Mum, 2014). Legend has it that this holy warrior continued to battle his Afghan enemies even as the blood drained from his headless body. But just as the distance is vast and difficult to grasp between the artist – a second generation, Glasgow-based British Sikh who grew up in Birmingham – and this 18th-century tale of martyrdom, the process of making the unwearable garment offered up its own great divide. Pandhal’s mother speaks Punjabi and knows little English; her son is the exact opposite. What’s lost in translation is gained in a curious sub-plot of identity and difference, of things known and not needing to be said.

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Originally published issue 168, January 2015

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