Back to all artists
Next Previous

Hema Upadhyay

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1972, Baroda, Gujarat, India 

Died 2015, Mumbai

Lived and worked in Mumbai

Hema Upadhyay belongs to the new generation of contemporary artist. She uses photographs, painting, sculpture and installation as a medium to explore her personal identity, nostalgia, feminity and displacement. Her ideas for work are derived from her home roots, migration and her stay in Mumbai, where consequences and repercussions of urban developments affect the socio-economic imbalance. Her works are hybrid image of global lifestyle, with a scent of relatively/ familiarity



MFA Printmaking, Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University, Baroda


BFA, MS University, Baroda

VIEW     Selected exhibitions     Text      Videos      Selected images      View all



She is interested in taking the socio-political into the gallery

Hema Upadhyay politicises her art through her realist aesthetics to react against the travesties political and personal of modern life. She questions modern notions of development project and progress. She marks the influences of these on slum dwellers but it takes a bleaker and darker form in her The Nymph and the Adult, 2001 which is a hard blow to our concept of civilisation and humanity. The installation was a reaction against the political move of India and Pakistan becoming nuclear nations. She sees the eventuality of it and its lasting effects on humanity where cockroaches will be the only survivors; the effect being opposite of life. She however does not believe in didacticism and claims that these political claims are on an individual artistic level and should not in any way inhibit/limit the imagination of the spectator when he or she actively interacts with the installation.

Hema Upadhyay, The Nymph and the Adult, 2001. Installation view, Artspace, Sydney.

Hema Upadhyay, Loco-Foco-Moto (detail), 2007, Matchsticks, SR Fevicol, 12 mm Marine Plywood, Metal Rings & Metal Cords, Variable

In another work produced at a residency in Pakistan, she wanted to articulate the volatile nature of violence in the context of partition and riots but not refer directly through archival mateial, photographs etc. While on a visit to the local market she saw vendors selling heaps of matchsticks on carts which were potential bomb due to the highly inflammable nature of these carts. She then produced Loco Foco Motto, 2007, which is a set of chandeliers made of matchsticks.

Through her structural installations she depicts the urban experience

Her works exhibit the confusion that arises out of living in an urban sprawl where dreams and aspirations are simultaneously excited and repressed. This dichotomous relationship can be clearly seen in her Sweet Sweat Memories. The city of Mumbai and how she and its millions of dwellers associate with it becomes her constant subject. Sense of isolation and alienation is coupled with a feeling of awe and excitement of being in a new city. Upadhyay’s empathy for the marginalised and dislocated migrant comes from her family history of migration from Pakistan to Gujarat, India and her own movement from Baroda to Mumbai. She is interested in the aesthetics that are produced by socio-economic hierarchies in the slums in Mumbai. She sees it as an existing dialectic between art and life constantly in flux. Her works foreground the voyeuristic aspect of viewing art as she makes us peep into the people’s houses.

Hema Upadhyay, 8 feet X 12 feet, 2009. Installation view.

Hema Upadhyay , Fish in a Dead Landscape, 2014, long grain Rice, hand written text on Rice  (long grain) glued on arches hand made sheets with Epoxy Cyanoacrylate Super Glue and 100mm magnifying glass, 72 x 48 inches

She explores the personal as the universal

Hema Upadhyay, the individual and the artist, are both expressed in her works. From her first work Ladki No. 1 to her latest Fish in a dead landscape, all derive from her personal experience, anxieties, hope, sorrows and dreams. The moment they are translated into works of art they acquire a universal language that is accesible and understood by all.

In Ladki No. 1, she paints an infinitely long ladder and on it places several photographic images of her climbing the ladder. Some are dressed in white and some in colourful clothing; the white was to represent her pure self from a small town and the colourful was her bad self which eventually wins. This was a lesson and a sign for her to change, to become more smart in the big city, leaving the the simple naive girl behind.

Hema Upadhyay, In between b 413/414 and A2 – 403, 2001, Sweet-Sweat memories, Gouache, acrylic, graphite and photograph on paper, 26.5 x 45 inches

With recent personal troubles, Hema Upadhyay found herself facing the motivational quote being flashed at a Church door. That got her thinking of the resonance that something so distant and impersonal had in her life. She articulated this in her work Fish in a Dead Landscape. In this work she imprinted Buddhist teachings on rice so that they are visible only by a magnifying glass. Peering into the work to read the lessons of life also reflects the scrutiny that is required to know oneself.


Through the outer chaos of the city, she articulates the inner conflict

For her the city of Mumbai was one that has a way of accepting and rejecting you. Her initial years of struggle in the city, the constant moving of houses for lower rates in lower middle class localities, are all an inspirationg for her fututre works. Her residency at the Atlier Calder, France made her introspective regarding expression of art. She expresses the inexplicability of the wild nature and the vastness of the interior. From this period on she situated her art in the interior by bringing elements of exterior upheaval to study interior chaos. From the physical aspect to the mental aspect, how the landscape affects you and what it does to the people. In her installation Twin Souls, 2010 she uses 60 ready-made toys of birds flying in circular motion to depict disease and animal madness due to inability to adjust to a new environment. She relates these movements to the human condition of alienation and claustrophobia in the city invariably experienced while engaging with the installation.

Hema Upadhyay, Twin Souls, 2010. Installation view.

The medium she uses depends on the nature of work

Hema Upadhyay has used innumerable materials in her works. As a sculptor she has always been interested in the materiality of objects. New to the city in the late 90s, with not enough money, Upadhyay learnt to use materials that were easily and cheaply available so that she made artworks for less than a thousand rupees. At this point from 1999 to 2003, there can be discerned in her works a usage of basic materials to craete large scale extraordinary projects.

She used M-Seal to make the cockroaches in The Nymph and the Adult, matchsticks to make Loco-Foco-Motto. In her latter worls she asserts that the material she uses reflects what the work demands. For example in Pathway, a work she did for the Khoj Workshop, she planted a letter to her mother using Ragi seeds. She dedicated it to the servants at the resort who wrote letters home. Migration to the city for them was a forced one leaving their agricultural background.

Hema Upadhyay, This Space between You and Me