Hardeep Pandhal – ‘Liar Hydrant’ Review

The 'Liar Hydrant' exhibition is showing at the Cubbit Artists building until Sunday 8 April.Credit: Mark Blower, courtesy of Cubitt Artists

Hardeep Pandhal’s work is designed to inspire unease. The 33-year-old Glasgow-based artist employs animation, video work, embroidery and sculpture to interrogate his identity as a second generation British Asian, often all at once. He bombards the viewer with grotesque, cartoonish images, sexual euphemism, spoken word, hip-hop music, and parodic essays. His references are also often purposefully confusing: Elaine Morgan’s aquatic ape hypothesis, the writings of Australian anthropologist W.E.H Stanner and Sikh religious history, to name just a few.

Through this bombardment, this cacophony of sound, image and texture, we witness threads of connection though. In his latest exhibition, ‘Liar Hydrant’ at the Cubitt Gallery, Pandhal shows four recent video works in succession. Totalling over thirty minutes of animation all set to Pandhal’s deadpan rapping and flat hip-hop beats, we witness British life warped and manipulated into a set of cartoon tableaus. In A Nightmare on BAME Street, Pandhal imagines an outdoor cinema in Birmingham – where he grew up – drawing surreal, amorphous figures whose excesses are exposed through lewd thought bubbles and the refrain of: “Enjoy yourself/Fuck the world.

In The Rebirth of Sacred Cow Mixtape Trailer, this hedonism is undercut by politicised motifs. Set in the hip-hop playground of the strip club, he ruminates on the masculine tropes of the genre and its adverse effects on women. Men are animated as hyper-masculine with rippling torsos and phallic heads, while women are reduced to breasts, legs and lips. Aside from these exaggerated features, characters often trail off into nothing and merge with their background, signifying an underlying fluidity of identity.

Ultimately, ‘Liar Hydrant’ is an overwhelming experience. It displays a formidable amount of work from Pandhal, much of which bears repeated viewing to gain a sense of its scope and depth. Yet, you can’t help but feel that it is only Pandhal himself who fully understands its meaning. The rest of us are left sitting on the see-saw he has sculpted, our viewpoint destabilised yet unable to look away from his anxious, overwrought vision of society.