HEMA UPADHYAY, The Glass House V, 2007, acrylic, gouache, dry pastel, graphite and photograph on paper and aluminum sheet, enamel paint, resin and found hardware material on board, dimensions variable. Courtesy Grosvenor Vadehra Gallery, London.

The Glasshouse

Hema Upadhyay

Grosvenor Vadehra
UK India

Hema Upadhyay is among the most celebrated young contemporary artists in India. She is known for her politically and socially engaged installations, including a chandelier made of matches created as a metaphor for India-Pakistan relations and Bleeding Hearts (2005), a room-sized installation of paintings and a sculptural bouquet, symbolizing inadequate apologies for tragedies. However, this exhibition at Grosvenor Vadehra, her first foray in London and first solo outing in three years, offered decidedly commercial new works.

Spread over the gallery’s three floors, familiar motifs were scaled down and incorporated into a body of primarily wall-based works. Upadhyay’s expansive installation, Dream a Wish, Wish a Dream (2003), a miniature three-dimensional rendition of Asia’s biggest slum, Dharavi in Mumbai, was reduced to panels sandwiched between and placed in front of canvases. Made from discarded metal sheeting and board, the original sprawled chaotically, with models piled upon each other capturing Dharavi’s makeshift nature. The new panels lose that visual immediacy, and the connection between models and paintings was not apparent.

The only work that retained coherence was Glass House V (2007), in which Upadhyay places photographs of herself onto a painting of a giant plant, with the figures peering down from its branches onto Dharavi below. Reflecting on her experience moving from Baroda to Mumbai, where she now resides, Upadhyay portrays herself as both onlooker and outsider detached from her surroundings.

Slightly more engaging was a series of smaller mixed media, acrylic and gouache paintings with collaged photographs, depicting the artist inside a snow globe. The pieces read like diary entries, each reflecting a state of mind, while the conceit of the globe’s glass barrier reinforces a sense of dislocation.

Overall, however, Grosvenor’s presentation of derivative versions of previous work was disappointing, given the pieces Upadhyay has inspired us with before.