The Indian art world is mourning the death of the artist Hema Upadhyay and her lawyer Harish Bhambhani who were found murdered in Mumbai on Saturday 12 December.
Considered a rising star in India's art world, Mumbai-based Upadhyay enjoyed a growing reputation with important international curators. Her work was exhibited at arts venues including the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, and the Hangar Bicocca in Milan.
She had earned residencies at programmes ranging from the Atelier Calder in France to the Vasl Art Collective in Pakistan. She was represented by some of India's most influential dealers, including Vadehra Art Gallery in Delhi and Gallery Chemould in Mumbai.
Upadhyay was best known for her photography and intricate mixed-media installations. “She was a good artist. In person she always had a sweet disposition and was always very considerate. The news is a shock,” says Emi Eu, the director of the Singapore Tyler Print Institute, the southeast Asian arts organisation that hosted Upadhyay in 2008 for a residency.
Although Upadhyay's works were strongly rooted in the landscapes and peoplescapes of her native India, her art connected with global audiences because she told human-scale stories about society and the urban experience that proved to be universal.
Her solo presentation at Studio La Città in Verona, Italy, was given the Shakespearean title of Where the Bees Suck, There Suck I. She took over the gallery with piles of small houses with rusting corrugated roofs, typical of Mumbai slum dwellings. She built the tiny homes out of plastic, scrap metal from abandoned cars, enamel and resin. Her art had an aesthetic that made you want to see, not look away.
Upadhyay was born, raised and received her art training in Baroda, in Gujarat. She moved to Mumbai in the late 1990s with her then husband to become part of the city's dynamic artist community. She was 43 years old when she died. Indian authorities continue to investigate her murder.