The Martial Artist

A global celebration of Bruce Lee, marking what would have been his 80th birthday.

A global celebration of Bruce Lee, marking what would have been his 80th birthday.

The 27th November 2020 would have been Bruce Lee’s 80th birthday.

To mark the occasion artists Darrell Vydelingum and Hetain Patel have collaborated to create The Martial Artist, a short film to celebrate Lee and his impact around the world.

Bruce Lee changed the game. Asian icon and godfather of Kung Fu movies. Lee was an actor, a leader, a philosopher and teacher who put martial arts on the world stage. He wanted to change the perception of both Chinese and Asian culture, and he did.

Lee was also a passionate champion of equality, he believed that martial arts should be accessible and open to all. He understood racism, segregation and oppression and knew there was no place for this in martial arts.

Lee’s now famous quote ‘Be Water, My Friend’, captures the essence of his philosophy – adaptability. Never to be restricted to a single form but able to adapt to any opponent or situation – and be free flowing. This philosophy extended outside of the dojo and through his life Lee challenged stereotypes, perceptions and prejudice.

Lee was a hero onscreen and off, a beacon of hope to so many around the world. Growing up for the artists Darrell and Hetain and so many others, Lee was a rare thing – an Asian role model.

In the Martial Artist we explore the love that continues to surround Lee and his living legacy at its most powerful – the grassroots. The artists invited dojos from around the world to honour Bruce Lee. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, schools from, Bermuda, China, Finland, France, Hong Kong, Mauritius, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, UK and the USA responded to the call.

The Martial Artist is a love letter to Bruce Lee. It reveals the breadth and diversity of the martial arts community. The senseis, sifus and their students, old and young and from many different backgrounds and communities.

At a time when the western world is questioning which legacies should be celebrated and our bronze statues do not seem to represent all of our stories. The Martial Artist is a different kind of memorial, a celebration of a living legacy on what would have been Bruce Lee’s 80th year.

Darrell Vydelingum said:
‘The Martial Artist is a film made by fans for fans, our way of saying thank you to Bruce Lee, who smashed down barriers and made it cool to be Asian. He made us proud of our heritage and saw the individual not the colour.’

Hetain Patel said:
‘I couldn’t imagine surviving my childhood without Bruce Lee. He made me feel that a skinny Asian-heritage kid like me could be powerful. He made me feel like I mattered.’

Thank You

We would like to thank the Arts Council England, Justine Simons, Skinder Hundal and New Art Exchange, Sally Shaw, Firstsite, Erica Bolton, and the Bruce Lee Foundation.

Thank you to Amy May, Adam Goldsmith, Matt Whittington for the music. Thank you to the dojos who contributed to the film, the teachers and students.

And thank you to our hero – Bruce Lee.

The Artists

Darrell Vydelingum
Darrell Vydelingum is a British Asian artist-curator working across multiple art forms including visual arts, fashion, photography, film and public events. Recurring themes in his work include equality, social change and revealing untold stories. He sees culture as a conversation for everyone and places public participation at the heart of all his projects.

For 14-18 NOW he conceived ‘Processions’, a mass participation cultural project marking the centenary of the first UK women receiving the vote. Over 100,000 women took part in mass processions in London, Edinburgh, Belfast and Cardiff, with commissioned banners created by female artists and communities. His exhibition ‘Fashion & Freedom’, explored women’s rights, fashion and the war and he commissioned 27 designers and 4 filmmakers to make museum pieces. Opened at Manchester Art Gallery before touring the UK.

He conceived and co-curated ‘Kaleidoscope; Immigration and the making of modern Britain’ at Somerset House in London. A photography exhibition showcasing ten British photographers with family origins in former British colonies. Alongside it he created ‘Backgrounds’, a pop-up public photography studio, exploring cultural identity in partnership with Google Arts & Culture.

Hetain Patel
Hetain makes photographs, videos, sculptures and live performances, usually for galleries and theatres. His works are in public and private collections in the UK, China, India and U.S.A.

In recent years, Hetain has worked with the Royal Opera House, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre, London. He made a working class Transformer robot from an old Ford Fiesta (with his dad) and designed part of a mini golf course for the Venice Biennale. He toured his live performance, TEN, internationally, made his first dance company work for Candoco, and was invited to do a TED talk which has now had over two million hits.

Hetain is interested in connecting marginalised identities with the mainstream. With an autobiographical starting point, he uses humour and the languages of popular culture to highlight familiarity within the exotic, recognition within the unknown. His work often involves exploring fantasy through a DIY domestic lens. Hetain often works collaboratively, with artists across disciplines, and with family members and non-professionals. Hetain won the Jarman Award in 2019 and shares a birthday with Bruce Lee.

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