Review: Fish in a Dead Landscape – Hema Upadhyay / Sushma Sabnis
Artist Hema Upadhyay returns after a long sabbatical of ten years, with her solo, ‘Fish in a dead landscape’ at the Chemould Prescott Gallery, Mumbai. The show has installation works, paper collage and assemblage works on display that mirror the artist’s long standing engagement with the protean spirit of the city of Mumbai, its ever newness and its silent decays. One could breeze past the show first, then walk by in deliberation and that would be the perfect way to experience what a city does to its inhabitants and what the inhabitants do to their city. Hema walks in deliberation, observing, marking, taking mental notes and not missing anything that could be part of the ‘landscape’, which she has created in her mind of her city and on journeys within the city.
As a whole the show moves like a set of holographic images, exposing the three dimensional facets of that which is an urban existential life when viewed from vantage points; highlighting its immeasurable connectedness and disconnectness of elements within its realms. It also highlights the city’s resilience.
An alternative world emerges from within the existing one when one chooses to change perspective. It makes one look at the same surrounding with a different pair of eyes. Eyes that can close in and blur out at will. This new found vision downsizes the escalated and enlarges the minute, bringing into view the unseen within existing, thriving universes.
The works tend to zoom in and zoom out of familiar terrains rendering them otherworldly at times and comfortable and cosy at other times. An effect of sensorial infringement is experienced by the viewer, which blots out the crude, menacing truth or highlights a masqueraded value of estrangement. Through it all the conflicts of silent rebellion and a resigned acceptance vie for the viewer’s attention. The work titled, ‘Modernization’ is a depiction of the slum area, Dharavi portrayed in an aerial perspective, using pieces of tarpaulin, plastic, aluminum and other materials to create the work, liberally interspersed with churches, mosques, temples and small bridges or flyovers which squeeze into this living monument of human survival in an urban jungle. Hema in an interview talks about her bus rides which went through this area and inspired these works. The multicolored melange of rooftops interspersed with upright religious markers, places of worship which seem to protect and keep the followers safe, ironically are territorial markers of class divide, rampant and imposed on the proletarian sections of society in todays world.
Discrimination based on religious classification, be it of humankind or the animal-kind, surfaces and blends at junctions decided by the artist’s creative devices. Here religion could be radical human behaviour or animal behaviour which humankind mimic such as aggression, violence, territorial disputes. Hema blurs the notions of sapient genetic superiority and aligns some of her experiences as an indication of primal behaviour she has been subjected to in her own life. In her works ‘Frigile’ and ‘Caricatured’ she implies the see-saw loyalties and mockery of the human emotional fabric which is subjected to scrutiny by an unconcerned society.
By using the backdrop of an urban landscape in a state of decay and deterioration, Hema implies that the truth of the human condition could reflect in its surroundings, so much so that in the work ‘Fish in a dead landscape’ the irony of the rows of colourful dead fish seem more alive against a grim landscape. In another set of works made using rice grains laid out neatly on panels, titled ‘What are we?’, one has to move closer and discern the text inscribed within. Phrases like, ‘Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting’ could be seen triggering mental images from the viewer’s memory reserves.
The artist addresses the fragmented world one lives in today, a world which demands and creates individuals who are torn between the constant tug-of-war of perception. The need to pay attention to all the crucial details of a living and to constantly be cognizant of a much bigger picture to adhere to. This tug-of-war, personal and public, of the mind versus the matter, is what probably stokes the fires of intolerance and discrimination.
Hema Upadhyay triggers the complacent urban mind to look at everything with a different set of eyes, further egging them on to think about themselves and their surroundings with clarity and purpose.
The show ‘Fish in a dead landscape’ is on view till 7th November 2014.