Bepen Bhana


NameBepen Bhana (he/him)
Country of BirthAotearoa
Place of ResidenceTāmaki Makaurau Auckland
ArtformVisual arts
Decades Active1990s, 2000s, 2010s, 2020s


Bepen Bhana was a graphic designer and multi-disciplinary artist with a particular focus on photorealistic painting. He had a complex artistic practice that addressed cultural appropriation, racism, humour and our mass consumption of popular culture. As James Pinker writes in The Curry Bunch catalogue, “Bhana’s humour is piquant and subtly confrontational. These paintings demand us to confront who we are and how we fit in - as individuals, as well as collectively.”

Bhana incorporated his enthusiasm for pop culture into the titles of his exhibitions. Postcards from the Edge (2013) references the 1990 Meryl Streep and Shirley McLaine movie and the work of graphic-wallahs (sign writers), who work from small images to create large painted billboards for Bollywood movies. His practice regularly presented this kind of cultural hybridity, stemming from the home in West Auckland that he grew up in with his family, who were from Navsari, Gujarat State in India. As an avid viewer of television from the 1970s onwards, Bhana often used the TV characters that he consumed as subjects in his paintings. For example, in The Curry Bunch (2016), he employed his signature photorealistic painting style, creating recreations of The Brady Bunch's studio portraits, but his these versions, he painted bindis, tilaks, or caste-markers (markings commonly worn by individuals from several South Asian cultures and religions) on each of their foreheads.

His love for 1970s media included The Basil Brush Show which he channelled into the exhibition Boom! Boom! Deluxe (2012) at Papakura Art Gallery. He created 23 replicas of the puppet fox, Basil Brush, the main character of the television series. Each model sported a designer suit made from material originating from fashion houses like Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton. This series was later shown at the WORLD store on Victoria Street in Te Whanganui-a-Tara. His exploration of nostalgic and mainstream cultural figures evoked a sense of playfulness, cheek and comedy that his practice beame synonymous with. As he described to Dilohana Lekamge in 2018, “The humour functions as a metaphorical veneer, but if you start scratching the surface, there are more sophisticated, intellectual, and polemical concerns lying under the facade of humour.”

Contemporary pop music was also of great interest to Bhana. In Hey Bey - Hymn for the Weak End (2017), at Fresh Gallery Ōtara, his large-scale paintings mimicked Beyoncé’s turn as a fictional Bollywood star in 'Hymn for the Weekend', a Coldplay song and music video. He took the scenes of her wearing an embroidered red bridal sari, with henna on her hands and heavy jewellery, and made them into a series of paintings. Each piece was a shot-for-shot reproduction — one movement per painting — including the kaleidoscopic background. In this series Bhana questioned the fetishisation of the aesthetics and traditions of South Asian cultures to promote Western media that seemingly has no relation to these regions.

As Balamohan Shingade puts it “Bepen Bhana is one of the most intriguing contributors to discussions of the South Asian diaspora”. His last suite of works focused on the commodification of the actor Sajid Khan, a Bombay-born Muslim child star who became an international heartthrob for a brief period in the 1970s. He was a commodified symbol of the Eastern world, whose career was short lived, and Bhana focused on his exoticisation and the throw-away attitude that the Western world had towards him as a figure of Indian culture.

Bhana also became known for producing and collecting extensive ephemera and catalogues. The supporting material shown alongside The Leif Garrett Fanclub (2012) at Ferari included a Leif Garett colouring-in book, fold out poster and felt pens, all designed by the artist himself. In the catalogue for the exhibition Postcards from the Edge, he printed postcards of each painting, which were accompanied by responses contributed by Ron Brownson, Shannon Te Ao, Ruth De Souza, Tessa Laird and Bhana himself. The book was a little larger than the size of standard postcard and its cover was greyish-purple metallic fabric, with intricate gold embossed lettering. Ephemera was a key part of Bhana’s practice, allowing him to create a second collection of easily distributable and collectable work that extended and articulated the concerns of his practice as a whole — reflecting his devoted observation of branding practices in contemporary culture, as well as his thorough approach to every element of his art practice.

In 2016 he undertook the Parehuia McCahon House Artists’ Residency and was an arts educator at Manukau Institute of Technology and Whitecliffe College of Art and Design. Bhana completed his Bachelor's degree, Master’s and first Doctoral degree at Elam School of Fine Arts and was in the process of completing his second Doctoral degree at Massey University when he died in 2023.


Key works / presentations

2021 — Prophetic Visions, The Performance Arcade, Pōneke Wellington

2017 — Hey Bey - Hymn for the Weak End, Fresh Gallery Ōtara, Tāmaki Makaurau

2016 — The Asia-Pacific Century: Part I, Enjoy Contemporary Art Space, Pōneke Wellington

2016 — Frankie Goes to Bollywood, Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau

2013 — The Leif Garrett Fan Club, Ferari, Tāmaki Makaurau

2013 — Postcards From The Edge, Te Tuhi, Tāmaki Makaurau

2013 — Boom! Boom! Deluxe, WORLD store, Pōneke

2013 — The Curry Bunch, Mangere Arts Centre, Tāmaki Makaurau

2012 — Boom! Boom! Deluxe, Papakura Art Gallery, Tāmaki Makaurau

2012 — The Facial Suite, Te Tuhi (billboard project), Tāmaki Makaurau

Key awards

2016 — Parehuia McCahon House Artists’ Residency

2009 — University of Auckland: Vice-Chancellor’s Prize for Best Doctoral Thesis, finalist

2005 — Ryochi Sasakawa: Young Leaders Scholarship

2005 — University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship

2001 — Best Design Awards: Category Winner - Graphics Section, Corporate Communication Category

1999 — Designworks Fellowship

1999 — University of Auckland: Fowlds Memorial Prize for Architecture, Property, Planning and Fine Arts

1999 — University of Auckland: Master's/Honour's Scholarship

1998 — The Paperhouse National, Design Competition: First Prize

1997 — International Jury Prize, Experimental / Animation Category: First Place,

1996 — Reeling'96, The 16th Chicago Lesbian and Gay International Film Festival

1996 — University of Auckland: Studio Arts Award for Top Scholar, Elam School of Fine Arts

1996 — University of Auckland: Senior Scholarship in Fine Arts for Top Scholar, Elam School of Fine Arts

1996 — University of Auckland, Elam Art Scholarship for Top Scholar Elam School of Fine Arts

1996 — UFVA Student Film and Video Festival Annual Conference: Honourable Mention

1996 — Canned '96 - Student Film and Video Festival: Special Judges Commendation Award, Best Script Award, Best Soundtrack Award, Best Set Design & Construction Award

Related entries

Last updated: 29 February 2024 Suggest an Edit


a paurple cover of a colouring book with a drawing of the head of a boy with blonde hair

Bepen Bhana, Leif Garrett Fan Club Colouring Kit Book (cover), 2013

Photo of a model of Basil Brush in a waist coat

Bepen Bhana, Louis Vuitton I, 2012, wool, cotton, acrylic, leather, vinyl, linen, felt, plastic, glass and metal

Photo by Steve Rood

Painting of a couple embracing in front of a beach

Bepen Bhana, Ko Amir Rāua Ko Asin I Otitori, Titirangi / Amir Aur Asin Phrenc Khaaree Par (Amir And Asin At French Bay, Titirangi), 2016, oil on canvas

Photo by Sam Hartnett

Painting of Beyonce in an Indian head covering

Bepen Bhana, Hey Bey – Hymn For The Weak End Suite II, Number III, 2017, oil on canvas

Photo by Sam Hartnett

Painting of Carol Brady

Bepen Bhana, 'Carol Brady' from The Curry Bunch, 2016

Photo by Sam Hartnett