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Performance Artist Vijay Patel: Making work as a Queer, British/Asian ‘Aspie’ in the UK

Vijay Patel is a performance artist based in South London. He explores forms with live art, cabaret and installations. His work has previously dealt with the complexities of being of mixed Indian/British heritage and what that means within the contemporary condition. His work has previously examined arranged marriages, immigration and gender issues. Vijay is also on the Artsadmin Youth Board since 2014, having co-produced a variety of their Youth Board events at Toynbee Studios. His current show ‘Pull the Trigger’ has been programmed as part of SPILL Festival 2016, Camden People’s Theatre Sprint Festival 2017 and shown at the University of Chichester. He is currently working on taking it on tour in 2018.

People have often asked me in recent years, what is it like to be gay and Indian today? (sometimes my Asperger’s is also part of that conversation) – so I thought I’d write about it.

I began performance at the age of 17 in film/TV acting and performing theatre from traditional playwrights. This did not lend itself well compared to the kind of expression of culture/identities which live art can offer. Throughout my degree at the University of Chichester, I learnt an experimental approach towards ‘making’ work, rather than pre-existing scripts. I then went on to making work in a post-structural way while keeping in mind that, I am a performance maker who is British, who is Indian, who is gay and who has Asperger’s. Since graduating in 2014, I have continued to perform work which has inherently linked these identities through interdisciplinary performance.

What I’ve found important in these devising processes (and whilst it may seem a simplistic observation) is that none of these identities can exist without the other. For example; I find the struggles with my Asperger’s are brought out in performances I make about Indian culture, which I used to find problematic when I performed, as it may detract away from my family struggles which were being spoken about. I once performed a piece of work which I had framed to be using one or two theatrical devices on stage, but with my Asperger’s, I found it incredibly difficult to maintain that within a persona onstage. Recently, I have decided to acknowledge that the devising process has to take my Asperger’s into account, which allows my body and my work to breathe fluidly between the identities and labels which attach themselves to me (not make up me).

These labels bring some feelings of being isolated in the UK today, but definitely a sense of belonging to some communities. I began working with Duckie in 2014 at their summer school which instantly opened me up to new ways of playing with form, structure and how supportive cabaret can be in accepting voices from QTPOC, LGBTQI+ and artists with a disability. I am constantly amazed by the bravery and radical art being programmed at a variety of cabaret venues in London, and this must continue. London as a place can be exhausting, but it helps when you have found communities which can support, encourage and enable you to thrive in your efforts.

What is it to be Queer, British/Asian and an ‘Aspie’ (Asperger’s abbreviation) in the UK? It’s fine, but not all of the time. We are all working together to support, care for others (and ourselves), love each other and break down patriarchal structures which oppress us. I want to take into account all of the thoughts above about identities, devising and performing when making work in the future. I want to continue responding to the contemporary condition in how I and others see the world in 2018 and beyond.

Duckie Family Legacy approached me about working on their collaborative event, curated by Kayza Rose and Campbell X. I had previously worked on the last Duckie Family event as Stage Manager in June 2017, however this time I am performing.

This show is to be something new and portrays a legacy which will live with me for life - My Grandmother (Ba) and authentic Indian food. The preparation of her Indian meals cannot be replicated no matter how hard I try and I think that resonates with many of us with regards to an elder relative’s cooking! There are many cultural aspects about the preparing of this food, the delivery and the smell of spices. I want to create an experience of this as somebody who has tried to make this food and not really succeeded in replicating it. We cannot hold onto our relatives forever; the food can be learnt but the experience will eventually leave us.

I want to share a performance which is fun and celebratory of my experiences. The work is a symbolic cultural ritual of Gujarati food preparation, titled Cooking for Love, which encapsulates how I attempt to continue my grandmother’s legacy. This is also how she views my identity as a gay man, there is a relationship we share with food which bonds us together; even after coming out. I am confident that Duckie Family Legacy will provide comfort, sensitivity and fun to this performance and I cannot wait to share it!



Duckie Family Legacy is at Rich Mix, Bethnal Green Road on Saturday February 17 - 8pm until late, tickets on the door only. 

For more information see: http://www.duckie.co.uk/events/duckie-family

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