Hardeep Pandhal
Harmoniums , 2021
India ink, gouache on paper
50.5 x 32 cm
£ 3,500


These drawings are inspired by the Anglo-Indian ghost stories of the Irish born author Bithia Mary Croker. Her work is considered to belong to a sub-genre of horror fiction written by underappreciated white women in the colonies, who were otherwise known as memsahibs in India during the British Raj. The works of these writers are thematically linked by appearing to be critical of the colonial mindset. For example, the stories involve white men being cursed and haunted by the natural environment, by colonial subjects who have died as a result of racist policies and by the ghosts of previous generations of white settlers. Arguably, these stories subvert the idea of the dark, evil other and adopt a more sympathetic stance towards the subjects of colonialism. These memsahibs therefore attempt to position themselves as having a shared subjectivity with the colonial subjects, or the native men at least. Their works provide a stark contrast to the works of canonised writers such as Rudyard Kipling, who wrote for, and in the tradition of, the male adventurous hero overcoming darkness. From a broader, tonal perspective, I was thinking about the idea of a South Asian or Punjabi Gothic, or even a Weird Punjabi Gothic, since the classic literary tropes of familial or inherited trauma in western Gothic texts also permeate actual South Asian family settings. It already exists in my opinion, there’s just no catch-all name to describe it as a genre or sub-genre yet. For me, Weird Punjabi Gothic would revolve around the miasmic forces of ‘unsettlement’ caused by acculturation. You could say my nascent Weird Punjabi Gothic cosmos comprises illiterate mothers, repressed fathers, decapitated bodies, haunting colonial subjects such as Sepoys and sentient, stomping Dr Martens boots. I was also thinking about the controversial play Behzti (Shame) by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, which takes place in a fictional UK Gurdwara where holy and ‘unholy’ things ensue. In my most recent statement I announce my work ‘exhibits syncretic strains of post-brown weirdness’. I suppose what I am striving for is a real reclamation of the sources of horror that permeate the classic works of supernatural, weird horror and dark fantasy, since it is often simply Orientalist.


Pandhal’s woollen jumpers have embroidered designs that protrude outwards with a ghoulish face or body parts. These monstrous depictions leak: their eyes ooze lengths of wool and strands spew from their mouths. The gory and ghastliness recalls the odious ‘cricket test’ pioneered by Lord Tebbit in the 1990s. This empirical ‘formula’ evaluated an immigrant citizen’s acculturation and loyalty to England by measuring their commitment to English cricket teams. "I consider my embroidery work as a form of defacement that chimes with the generational and wider cultural conflicts between myself and my parents’ culture."