Kiran Nadar Museum of Art displayed a single installation by the late artist Hema Upadhyay (1972-2015), as part of a special presentation at India Art Fair 2018 in Delhi. Since 2002, Hema Upadhyay worked on thought-provoking installations engaging with Dharavi, Mumbai – the second-largest slum in the continent of Asia and the third-largest slum in the world.
At times, Upadhyay simply observes the overwhelming sprawl and, at other times, she inserts herself into the complexity of the scape, commenting on the stark contrast between the harsh reality of urban life and its eerie beauty. 8’x12’ (2009) is an early installation by the artist that directly addresses the vulnerability of urban life in the third-world. The meditative work focuses on Mumbai’s shanty towns, which appear here upside down and protruding – like a canopy over a decorated montage.
Standing at an impressive 8ft by 12ft (dimensions based on the size of an average slum house), the piece invites the audience to literally enter a marked interior space. The walls and ceiling of the construction present an aerial slum view, so the viewer is at once intimately within and yet detached from the space.
Upadhyay’s photography and sculptural installations explore notions of personal identity, dislocation, nostalgia and gender. She often draws on the theme of migration and human displacement across Asia. The artist’s own personal and family history of migration is often evidenced in the works, referencing the repercussions and socio-economic inequalities that emerge as a hidden consequence of the relentless tide of urban development in the city.
Made using maquettes of tin houses created from aluminium sheets, car scraps, enamel paint, tarpaulin, pieces of metal, and other found objects collected from Dharavi, the work is a study in contrasts: great and yet minute scale; while physicality and strong, deliberate emotions evoked in the viewer are juxtaposed with a solemn invitation for calm and rumination.
As one becomes accustomed to the initial discomfort, a concealed beauty and details emerge…slowly but surely: temples and mosques, a few high-rise towers amid a swarm of tiny dwellings, an intricate wired mesh of street lamps and TV antennas.
With this presentation, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art furthers its mission to activate visual and intellectual dialogue and arts appreciation across the country, with a focus on bridging the gap between art and the public, offering new ways for audiences to engage with both traditional and contemporary art in South Asia.
By Maria Louis

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