Hema Upadhyay’s works at STPI question the meaning of ‘home’ in the face of India’s rapid urbanisation using autobiography and personal insights. One of India’s illustrious contemporary artists, Upadhyay returns to printmaking after a decade’s hiatus. She says, “The STPI residency was a very important offer at that point of my art making where I felt the need for intervention within my comfort zone.” Upadhyay’s monumental works astound with their innovative installment of structures made from Chinese wood puzzles and application of clay onto STPI handmade paper. “I believe Hema’s analysis of worldly struggles developed her visual symbols for these works,” comments STPI’s Master Papermaker Richard Hungerford.
Upadhyay’s works are centred on Mumbai, a neurotic metropolis aspiring to be a ‘global city’. Hema’s question of ‘home’ is doubly vexing in a city where the trade-off between ideals and the fulfilment of dreams is especially high. Locating her tumultuous experience of migrating from Baroda to Mumbai in 1998 and her parents’ migration from Pakistan to India, she relates to the thousands who come to the city to pursue their aspirations only to be confronted by the random harshness of its social and political complexities.
Upadhyay plays the role of a narrator or a victim by incorporating images of herself and commands the viewer’s gaze and fragments it through the pictorial plane to express an inner state of conflict and displacement. The images also assert her own body as something real as opposed to the visuals of repetitive plastic figures––a representation of the faceless urban mass, devoid of identity.
Urbanisation’s toll on the physical landscape is seen through Upadhyay’s use of wooden structures, clay and the truncated background. STPI’s Hungerford says, “The wooden constructs were once trees but now just a commodity put together to entertain. The challenge was to mount the wood structures securely and to disaggregate their initial narrative structure.” Upadhyay’s deconstruction and arbitrary arrangement of Chinese wood puzzles reflects her visualisation of incoherent, even guerilla urbanism. The use of clay, parched and crackled, asserts her belief that even something as elemental as earth is made arid when soil is concretised.