Artist Hema Upadhyay addresses issues of urban migration and urban spaces through her art works
The sole survivors of a nuclear holocaust — a million cockroaches swarming the earth — have a Kafkaesque reality attached to it. Creating a harmony between beauty and the grotesque, artist Hema Upadhyay had handcrafted over 2000 life like sculptures of cockroaches in her famed work Nymph and the Adult. Recently in the city as part of the Krishnakriti Annual Festival of Art and Culture at Kalakriti Art Gallery, she says the inspiration behind her famed work was the nuclear power mongering that India and Pakistan were engaged in 1999. “I realised that only cockroaches can survive a nuclear onslaught and through this work I wanted to portray nuclear war in a poetic mix of comedy and horror,” she explains.
A graduate of M.S University of Baroda, this Mumbai-based artist has presented her works on many international platforms. She has dealt with issues related to urban spaces and the varying identities of the migrant population through her works. “My ideas of migration are based on personal experiences. During the Partition my family had moved from Karachi to India, and living in Mumbai made me realise it's a haven to study the elements of migration,” she says. The good, bad and the ugly side of migration, questioning the sense of belonging is represented in the artist's work through the congested and chaotic urban landscapes and metaphorical images. Though her work titled Sweet Sweat Memories, she has explored the political, socio-economic and the abstract concepts of urban landscapes. “My research on migrant population took me to the slums of Dharavi and how the people exist in the 8/12 hovels which is the maximum space available in the area,” she explains . Travelling in those areas, the artist says she was not only looking for inspiration but she also from a position of a voyeur. “There is a thin line between aesthetics and voyeurism and during research in these areas an artist cannot be judgemental about the surroundings; but create work in a formal level where it can trigger discussions,” she says.
Whether expressing herself on inane violence through her depiction of Tom and Jerry cartoons or the collages of miniaturised self portraits to convey personal and urban existential angst, the artist's works also highlights a sense of humour. In her message to budding artists she says, “Hybridity is important in art and irrespective of the commercial aspects, an artist shouldn't miss out on the personal journey when working in the studio or a gallery. The relation between an artist and her work is very pure.”