Chintan Upadhyay is known for his provocative quirkiness. Who does not know his vibrant ‘baby’ sculptures with equally colourful names that have now become synonymous with the Delhi-based artist? The last one of his ‘baby works’ we saw was a 10-feet-high fibreglass head at India Art Fair earlier this year. However, Upadhyay is currently on a different trajectory. For his latest solo art show, titled Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron-Redux at Gallery Espace in New Delhi, Upadhyay has used second hand knitted garments to create a metaphor for “the faceless people of our city”. He converts the gallery space into what looks like “Sarojini Nagar market”, the walls and floor of the gallery replete with sculptural installations and photographs of faceless forms and figures in stuffed woollen garments.
Chintan Upadhyay’s art practice has remained focused on ideas of mass production, production of desires and colossal wastes and mechanical artificiality of modern landscapes. These themes have found echoes in both his gallery bound and site specific works.
“I have been working with site-specific projects since over a decade. In 2010/11, I was working in El Salvador on a residency project where I asked residents to give me their second-hand clothes. The works made with this cloth and filled with sand were installed on the beach and soon the entire area looks like a land inundated with bodies. There has always been a sense of ‘death’ in my work, though not in a morbid way. Even my babies are never alive, they will never talk and they are genetically controlled but there is so much life going around them. The idea of working with second hand clothes came from there and when Renu Modi asked me to work on a show last year, I knew I could create another site-specific story.”
Just like his baby sculptures which have a multitude of narratives imprinted on them, his present works too are multi-layered. On one hand, Upadhyay, seeks to talk about the dignity of labour, and “about those invisible people we do not notice in our daily lives.” And on the other, he questions the faceless façade of an urban space and city life where we are all strangers scared of “each other’s strangeness”.
In all his works, hence, whether these are wall-mounted installations created by stitching dozens of woollen clothes together, or photographs of a person whose face and entire body has been concealed with a woollen garment, or small boxes stuffed with toy-like woollen shapes, there is a sense of both the bizarre and the obvious.
“I wanted to buy second hand garments and not borrow from people I knew,” Says Upadhyay who shifted from Mumbai to Delhi three years ago, “so that no connections could be traced back to the person who wore them. Doesn’t the city also think like this? Do we ever want to know who these people are who work for us, who live on the streets? I want to talk about the idea of memories attached to objects in these works. These are also narratives about domestic spaces and public spaces – people we meet and see but don’t care to know.”
Ask him if he didn’t have the urge to create another baby figure, he says. “These works have a similar childlike and playful projection, although with a dark shade. The boxes with stuffed garments are like toys. So in a way these metaphors are not divorced from the spirit of my previous works.”
No wonder, Upadhyay says this new body of work is also a throwback to his own childhood, one in which he saw his mother knit for both “passion and business”. In the show, there is a 7-feet-long sweater he has created in collaboration with his mother.