Hema Upadhyay's unfinished work finds completion, thanks to assistant Shanker Lal Suthar

That life is short but art is long took on significant overtones as a new work by Hema Upadhyay was completed earlier this week. Her installation, which she had titled ‘Find me a nest where I can rest’ was getting made for a group show at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (MFA), but came to an abrupt halt with her tragic murder two months ago. Through the hands of her studio assistant, Shanker Lal Suthar, the installation has found closure. Upadhyay is represented by Chemould Art Gallery.

Hema UpdhayayHema Updhayay

‘Find me a nest…’ is a take on migration, using the visual metaphor of birds, for which Upadhyay had made and sourced a total of 320 birds. Ranging from owls to parrots, she was assisted by Suthar, who coloured the birds according to her specifications. “Hema madam had given me instructions on how to colour the birds. She used to refer to an international encyclopedia that had details of birds from all over the world,” said Suthar, currently in his hometown, Bikaner. Suthar, a JJ School graduate with a BFA, has been associated with Upadhyay since 2007 for smaller tasks, but started substantially assisting her on her artworks at her studio in Laxmi Industrial Estate.

Shanker Lal Suthar
Shanker Lal Suthar

The latest Upadhyay work will be exhibited at MFA from April 3 to July 17, alongside works by Ai Weiwei and Subodh Gupta in a show titled Megacities Asia.

Shanker Lal Suthar working with one of Hema Upadhyay's canvases at her studio
Shanker Lal Suthar working with one of Hema Upadhyay's canvases at her studio

The show, co-curated by Al Miner and Laura Weinstein, is a comment on urban environments, a theme that Upadhyay often addressed in the intricate and heavily detailed installations she made. The other Upadhyay work to be showcased is 8’ x 12’, which is now in Kiran Nadar’s collection. MFA, which had earlier announced its grief over Updhyay’s passing away, has dedicated the show to her.

Gallerist Shireen Gandhy of Chemould said, "Suthar is skillful and talented, and it was wonderful to see him carry on with the work despite Hema’s passing away. He was completely in sync with Hema's way of working. While most of the work is done, the remainder is to do with the placement of the installation at the show, for which Helene de Franchis, founder of Studio La Citta, Verona will fly down one of her gallery assistants who is conversant with Hema's installation to assist in the installation. De Franchis and her team had earlier worked with the use of birds in installations at the Venice Biennale."

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