I Saw Chintan Upadhyay in the India Art Fair Yesterday, Did You?

Review: IAF2016 / JohnyML

Amidst the glitter of art, networking and absolute commerce at India Art fair 2016, one wonders if anyone remembers artist Chintan Upadhyay and Hema Upadhyay.. JohnyML conducts a social experiment within the fair and reports..

Visitors at India Art Fair 2016

Visitors at India Art Fair 2016

“Really, where is he?” her eyes turned to the long aisle of the HallNo 2 of the India Art Fair 2016 looking for Chintan Upadhyay. This artist’s reaction was provoked by a question put to her by me as a part of my social experiment within the India Art Fair venue. I had asked a lot of people, both artists and gallerists, a couple of questions: Did you meet Chintan Upadhyay here? Did you think of him at least once during the last three days? I just wanted to gauge the depth of the absence of two people in tragic circumstances from the 8th edition of the India Art Fair.

Visitors at India Art Fair 2016

Visitors at India Art Fair 2016

For the beginners, Chintan Upadhyay is a famous mid-career artist who has been in the Thane Jail for the last one month under judicial custody for his alleged involvement in the murder of his estranged wife, Hema Upadhyay who was also a well-known mid-career artist. We speak good things about the departed people. When Hema passed away under tragic circumstances Indian media qualified her as ‘internationally celebrated installation artist’ and Chintan ‘too a well-known’ artist. One of the foreign media at that time wrote about Hema as ‘she was said to be an international artist in India’, not really giving her the qualification that the Indian media had attributed to her. Friends of Chintan and Hema had started a justice for Chintan and Hema campaign, which another foreign media termed as ‘one of the five worst things’ of the last week.

My social experiment was against this backdrop. Too many tears had already been shed on Hema and she still deserves a tearful tribute. In the case of Chintan, whether he is the culprit or not, the people who had been making money out of his works, seem to have distanced from him. India Art Fair is the best example. Not a single gallery has showcased Chintan’s work this year obviously for the fear of social ostracism that would be meted out to them if they dare to do so. Chintan was a prominent figure in India Art Fair a couple of years back with his monumental Smart Alec Baby head adorning the front courtyard of the India Art Fair pavilion.

Visitors at India Art Fair 2016

Visitors at India Art Fair 2016

However, the artists seem to have not left Chintan and Hema from their minds. The young artist made it categorically clear that she every year looked out for Chintan’s works than Hema’s. She would have rejoiced if she could see Chintan walking to the hall freed from all allegations. It is not a young artist’s admiration for an ‘irreverent’ male artist. His male friends too miss him in the India Art Fair. “I am sad to know that he has to remain in Jail for some more time before he gets bail. Yet, I am expecting a miracle so that he could walk free,” says a distressed friend who stood with Chintan during the days of crisis.

Chintan Upadhyay's sculpture at IAF 2014

Chintan Upadhyay’s sculpture at India Art Fair 2015

Artists who spoke to me preferred to remain anonymous. “It is not that I am afraid of coming out and saying my opinion. The doubt has been cast. In the court of my conscience he stands acquitted. But we have a court of law and also we have two families affected by the double murder. While I pray for Chintan every day, I cannot forget the plight of the families of the deceased. The truth has to come out and Chintan has to come out of trouble too. I am waiting,” says an artist who has not been in Chintan’s personal circle ever. “It is like the assassination of John F Kennedy. He was nobody to us but something happened to us when he was assassinated. Here Chintan is the accused but still we feel he also deserves justice. Please do not ask what kind of justice,” he is thoughtful.

Another artist in Hall number three is vehement in getting justice to Chintan. “Why don’t we gather in Mandi House and pass a resolution, and then submit it to the government,” asks he. Obviously he does not know the complications involved but his intention is clear. He assures me that he would be ready to come out and speak up if there is such move in Delhi for Chintan. I smile and tell him that I am not planning to organise something like that and also have not heard anything of that sort in Delhi.

Visitors at India Art Fair 2016

Visitors at India Art Fair 2016

A few people did not want to comment. One of the gallerists whom I approached told me that she did not think anything about Hema or Chintan because her whole interest was in getting the clients interested in the works that she had displayed. In the excitement of business and aggressive market, developing social relationships, chit chat over expensive coffees and cocktails, and even in the ridiculously serious seminar halls (in the India Art Fair) the memories of Chintan and Hema had already submerged. When someone pokes the artists with such a question regarding them, they definitely remember them.

Chintan’s is a clear case of human fate. He was the hero in the last year. This year none wants to touch his works. Will he be able to bounce back to life and art even if he is acquitted? It all depends on the so called morality of the market players. This is where I feel that we need human beings in art both as makers and sellers. The more money speaks the more artists are relegated to the vaults of oblivion for alleged crimes and unexplained plotting. Let humanity speak in the subtlest of voices and in the subtlest forms of art so that we could walk a golden path to reach a brooding Buddha or walk a coal strewn path so that we could reach a golden Buddha.

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