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Artist Profile2
Building on her themes of self, space and urbanity
In the backdrop of the recent outburst – largely political in nature - against Mumbai’s migrants, artist Hema Upadhyay’s work becomes quite relevant. Her works identifies with the city’s multi-cultural, accommodative and at times aggressive tendencies – at an individual as well as social level.

In her work, she tries to discover the emotive world of the people who flock to the city to fulfill their aspirations or just to make a living. The artist has made a conscious decision to use her own image, imparting an autobiographical touch to her work even as they reflect on a broader social phenomenon. On one hand, it may be construed as a personal chronicle about the individual perspective but on other hand, it reflects a collective experience of migration and displacement; an emotive tale, narrated in a contemporary, urban voice. She has stated: “Certain incidents in my personal life took on a special place, elements of which recurred frequently in my work. Many of these stories became sources for my work.”

Hema Upadhyay stays tuned to contemporary times and issues that find an echo in her work. She revisits a ‘home’ - not as a site of security. She addresses concerns of those yearning for a root, and experiencing a continual sense of dislocation. Dislocation is a worldwide condition; the artist though uses local references. Delving into an emigrant's constant struggle to identify and merge with a new place, her work essentially narrates her transition to the city of Mumbai in personal and artistic terms.

Among her prominent solos are ‘Glass House’ Grosvenor Vadehra, London (2007); ‘Made in China’, a collaborative installation with Chintan Upadhyay, ‘Underneath’, Gallery Chemould, Mumbai (2004), ‘The Nymph and the Adult’, Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane (2001-2002), and ‘‘Sweet Sweat Memories, Chemould (2001).

Her work has also been featured in selected group exhibits, including ‘Parallel Realities: Asian Art Now’, the 3rd Fukuoka Asian Art (2005-06); Triennale, Blackburn Museum, Blackburn, UK (2006); Indian Summer, Ecole nationale Superieure des Beayx Arts, Paris (2005); ‘Indian Contemporary Art’, Chelsea College of Art, London (2005); ‘Have we met?’, Japan Foundation, Tokyo (2004); ‘Parthenogenesis’, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney (2003), and The Tree from the Seed, Henie Onstad Kunssenter, Oslo (2003) among others. She has been awarded the National Scholarship from the Ministry of Human Resources as well as the Gujarat State Lalit Kala Akademi Annual Award.

Essentially a painter, she employs photo-images since painting and figuration would result in distortions and extraneous factors to the reading of the imagery, thus interfering with what she wishes to communicate. In her work, the artist looks at the outside by peeping inwards. The perspective is a personal one. Her work - deeply introspective and sensitive - tends to pull in different and at times contradictory directions, symbolizing an inner state of rootlessness within a fragmented period of time.

Born, brought up in Baroda and trained in painting & printmaking at the Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University there, she arrived in Mumbai. It’s a journey similar to that of many others who come to the city seeking work. The artist inadvertently turned a self-aware agent for the anonymous urban migrant. In her renderings of displacement, Upadhyay own impressions of the urban landscape act as a source. Her work goes beyond the visualization of physical spaces to trace the emotional and physical remnants of resettlement.

Her solo show titled ‘Sweet-Sweat Memories’ almost seven years ago presented the architecture of her experience that she had looked at and perceived from multiple perspectives. In pasting her own miniaturized, cut-out photos onto large-sized mixed-media paintings, her attempt was to alternate aerial and subaltern perspectives of a city - overwhelmed and overwhelming.

Noted art critic Nancy Adajania, analyzing the works, had mentioned how the artist started off by questioning the idea of self-representation as a glorificatory act, de-magnifying the body and amplifying the urban landscape. ‘The artist's strategy of miniaturising the body in scale and space can be interpreted as an argument against two supposedly opposed, but curiously analogous, paradigms: on the one hand, the fetishistic images of larger-than-life women's bodies reproduced in the patriarchal visual culture of the billboard, and on the other, the static canon of feminism that has, paradoxically enough, engendered a fixation with women's body-parts in contemporary feminist art,” she had noted.

The artist’s ‘I Have a Feeling that I Belong’ in 2000 was an autobiographical declaration of Mumbai as her home, she further explored the metaphors of migration in a site-specific installation ‘The Space in Between You and Me’. Her installation ‘Dream a Wish, wish a dream’ was a meticulous microcosm of Dharavi slum colony in the city.

Not averse to experimentation, when she was invited for a one-month-long residency program in Pakistan in 2003, she created a sculpture made out of matchsticks. Titled ‘Loco-Foco-Motto’, it spoke of that 'Moment' when the Mind decides on the function of the matchstick – either Constructive or a Destructive one! The construction, inspired from the form of the Chandelier, exuded 'light of hope' in this fragile environment.