Hema Upadhyay channels personal memories of migration—her family’s displacement during the partition of India and her own difficult transition to Mumbai—into works that explore through a gendered lens the sense of fear, dislocation and fragmentation of identity that the experience can trigger. In several works, she has inserted her own image into canvases that reflect on her encounter with the city of Mumbai, home to opulent and insular high rises as well as sprawling slums where battles over ‘development’ unfold daily.

Silence and Its Reflections (2014) is a series of six panels made of rice that mirror the undulating surface of an ocean. The waves within these ‘rice scapes’ carry miniscule fragments of text that have been handwritten on the grains. The panels are accompanied by magnifying glasses using which audiences can read these texts.

Artisans offering to write names and phrases on a grain of rice are a common sight in streets and fairgrounds in India. Each panel by Upadhyay contains 35 quotations that the artist has sourced from roadside signs, textbooks, newspapers or the boundary walls of churches and schools. Meant for passers-by and often overly rhetorical in nature, these phrases acquire a certain solemnity when displaced on to the rice panels. Combined with the powerful, wave-like gestural component—that of following the flow of texts on the panels through a looking glass—the work leads viewers into states of reflection.


  • Title: Silence and Its Reflections
  • Creator: Hema Upadhyay
  • Physical Dimensions: Six panels, 6 x 4 ft each
  • Type: Installation
  • Medium: Long grain rice, handwritten text on rice glued on Arches hand-made paper with Epoxy Cyanoacrylate super glue, twelve 100 mm magnifying glasses
  • Gallery: Durbar Hall, Ernakulam
  • First Creator: 1972
  • Date of artwork's creation: 2014
  • Creator's practice: Mumbai, India.
  • Creator's date of birth: Vadodara, India.

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