Hema Upadhyay was born in 1972, Baroda, India. Through her work, Hema has consistently dealt with universal experiences of migration and displacement from a personal and individual perspective. Through her mixed media works on paper she incorporates her own photographs to communicate her ideas of migration having moved to Bombay in 1998. They speak of a sense of alienation and loss and at the same time a feeling of awe and excitement one usually feels when in a new place. In the same year Hema had her first international group show in Sydney, Australia. She exhibited an installation titled The Nymph and the Adult, which consisted of 2000 lifelike cockroaches; these roaches infested the exhibition space. The work was displayed against a backdrop of a highly politically charged atmosphere around the globe and questioned the viewers to think about the consequences of our military actions. It made one wonder what would survive and the state of the world at the end of all our wars and nuclear experiments.
She has addressed her primary concerns – The chaotic human condition in times of modernity and development through different mediums and added new dimensions to them. Her works are emotive and she places herself as the protagonist in her paintings using photographs of herself to remain accurate since she feels that painting a self-portrait no matter how realistic does bring in a certain amount of subjectivity. She has also expanded her language to include installations; At first glance her installations seem to be a landscape of Bombay however it is a statement on a city of migrants who make Bombay what it is; a thriving metro; a land of dreams. In a way slums, low cost housing, etc are a product of uncontrolled migration, where people let go of familiarities and comforts in order to have a place to stay in an unfamiliar surrounding. This is the case in most big cities in the world.
Hema has also been part of numerous residencies. She had her first solo exhibition at Gallery Chemould in 2001 titled Sweet – Sweat Memories. In 2003, she did a collaborative work titled Made in China, which spoke about mass consumerism, globalization and a loss of identity through this. Her other collaboration where she collaborated with her mother has been shown at the Chicago Cultural Centre it was titled Mum-my in 2007.
In 2009, Hema participated in the Indian Highway at the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo and was part of the inaugural exhibition at MACRO museum, Italy. In 2009 with her sculpture ‘Where the bees suck, there suck I’ for Reopening of MACRO museum, Rome. Curated by Luca Massimo Barbero.
She now lives and works in Mumbai, India.