Artist Hema Upadhyay's brutal murder has left her peers shocked. Gallery owner Abhay Maskara, artist Jitish Kallat and art gallery director Roshini Vadehra offer their reactions
Hema was a friend and I have known and seen her work through the years. Her work evolved through the years and across mediums. This was the city that she had grown to live and work in, and her work draws from the context.
I have met her often at gallery shows in the city as well as at her travelling exhibitions, such as one in Paris. As a gallery, we did not represent her or ever exhibit her works but this is more from a personal approach.
One of Hema Upadhyay’s works is to be displayed at the Sensorium, the arts festival at the Sunaparanta in Goa from today. Titled ‘Conversation,’ it is handwritten text on rice glued on arches. Ironically, its creator has been forced into silence
As a curator, I have appreciated her work and have even purchased her works. I know what it means to own a Hema Upadhyay work and what it can do to your surroundings. Having gone through a pretty long-drawn divorce myself, Hema and I have shared our experiences with each other.
Recently, after the opening of our last show, Hema and I had a good 30-minute conversation about her difficult times, but we also spoke about how there is light at the end of the tunnel. She believed that creativity and positivity are a way to sail through tough times.
Hema was a strong woman and a successful artist, and she and Chintan were both independent artists. While she was concerned, it did not seem hopeless.
In fact, she was up and about for last week’s Art Night Thursday and visiting various show openings. I couldn’t meet her personally because of our gallery's opening night, but one of our gallery artists spoke about having met her that night and discussing a moon-project that he was working on.
Even he mentioned how she did not seem distressed. And Hema was a generous person. There was a time when Maskara was going through tough times and we weren’t sure if we could pull through. Out of the blue, she approached me and asked if we needed any help.
She offered to sell her paintings and give the proceeds to us. She did it out of the love for art, the kind of gesture that only an artist would make. She was an established artist in the contemporary milieu and the continuity of her visual language is a great loss.
It feels like a friend has been snatched away, and no matter how bad the situation, I did not think it would have a heinous cold-blooded ending as this. We need to stay calm until more facts emerge.
— Abhay Maskara is the founder of Gallery Maskara
Jitish Kallat, Eminent artist
Hema’s untimely death is deeply devastating; a chilling end to a life spent in artistic pursuit. Hema’s early work channelled personal reflections of her difficult transition to Mumbai into works that carry a sense of anxiety and dislocation.
In several of these works her self-image is seen as lost amongst insular high rises or navigating sprawling slumscapes. Her work extended to a wide range of media and forms. At the recent Kochi Muziris Biennale, which I curated, she presented a powerful piece titled Silence and its Reflections.
The work was a series of six panels made of rice that mirror the undulating surface of an ocean. The waves within these ‘rice scapes’ carry miniscule fragments of text that have been handwritten on the grains.
The audiences could enter the work by using the panel’s magnifying glasses that revealed words that Hema had sourced from roadside signs, textbooks, newspapers or the boundary walls of churches and schools... their collective chorus making for a deep meditation on life. The fact that she is no more with us is hardly sinking in.
Roshini Vadehra, Director, Vadehra Art Gallery
We had Hema’s solo exhibition at Baroda in 2012, and another solo in Paris. She was extremely engaged with her work and responded to different issues, whether social or economic, and was very involved.
I don’t think Hema ever showed any reaction to what was going on in her life. She continued working. We spent some time with each other at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute. I had the privilege of seeing the kind and gentle person she was.