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Life in a matchbox

Hema Upadhyay on her artworks which have constantly delved into the city.

art and culture Updated: Jan 22, 2009 15:00 IST

Once I got to Bombay, no work got done for six to seven months. The city was just too difficult to grasp. There was a fear of rejection.. a fact every migrant has to face. I had to deal with the process of wanting to be accepted, the need to understand body language and the attitude of the people and city.

Belonging to a family displaced from its birthplace (Pakistan), I now lived another kind of migration in my own family. My parents’ move was made without any choice. I had moved by choice by Baroda to Bombay. The city started reflecting itself in my works. Here are my three favourites:

My first solo show, Sweet Sweat Memories 2001 was held at Gallery Chemould. The narrative in my work is autobiographical. Choosing the self becomes a gradual process, a self that confronts personal phobias and shortcomings. Sweet Sweat Memories spoke of Mumbai. Of hundreds of people migrating to the city; a dream destination that speaks its own rhetoric of acceptance and rejection.

I Live in a Matchbox was inspired by the living systems in Mumbai — the landscape of small boxes neatly stacked one over the other. I was fascinated by the high-rises, which I found a sturdy and comforting landscape. During the first few years I moved house every 11 months. Wanting a home of my own became an almost obsessive desire because I was looking for a ‘base'.

I Live in a Matchbox was an urgent response to the contemporary, suffocating living conditions. This is a place where on one side exposure, mediation and exchange are continually increasing, while on the other our living and indigenous characteristics are constantly shrinking.

Dream a wish-wish a dream was an extension of an earlier work of mine titled Visitors — 1972 until 1998. A work about me being a visitor to Mumbai before I shifted here in 1998.

Dream a wish-wish a dream commented on the estate (organised land politics) where different rules are set up for property, the value of the land and its mafia. This artwork was made with thin aluminum metal sheets and car scrap. Dream a wish.. had to be very realistic in its representation. It is a work about Mumbai, a city built by the migrants who have had generations inherit the living places.

My work deals with the socio political position of Mumbai as an economic capital of the country. It also speaks about the space in its physical sense.

The language of realism, which you see as a part of my installations, sculptures or paintings, speaks about its people, objects, houses, drainage and lanes. The visuals tease the viewer out of his own comfortable space. At the same time, they attempt to commemorate the wishes, dreams and aspirations lived and unlived in these small cities within a city.