Welcome to Maximum Cityhttps://indianexpress.com/article/lifestyle/life-style/welcome-to-maximum-city/

Welcome to Maximum City

Artist Hema Upadhyay’s Wave is a reworking of Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Hema Upadhayay; her work, Wave
Hema Upadhayay; her work, Wave

I was first introduced to Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai during my college days at MS University, Baroda. I got a chance to see some of his originals at an exhibition in Paris a couple of years ago.

The works weren’t very large, but extremely beautiful and metaphorical, they interpret nature as symbols of economic growth in the Edo period. Yet, they retained the beauty and elements of nature. The artist’s woodcuts offer readings that still retain their importance today.

In my own recent mixed media works on handmade paper, like Wave, I have taken a lot from Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa (1829-32). The coloured woodcut print is an extremely popular work of his. It depicts an enormous wave threatening boats off the coast of the prefecture of Kanagawa. It is a symbol of the period it was created in, characterised by economic growth, strict social order, isolationist foreign policies, and an emphasis on art and culture.

Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa
Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa

For me, the “wave” refers to the great continuous wave of migrants into Mumbai, and denotes the idea of home and development in the minds of people. I have incorporated text about Mumbai in the work, including some famous quotations on the city by some thinkers.


It looks exactly like the Hokusai work, but not with a view of the beautiful snow-clad Mount Fuji, a symbol of beauty in Japan. Instead, I present a view of neon-lit Mumbai at night; it is a view of the contemporary, ever evolving, modern city that is considered a symbol of “dreams” and “success” for many people in the country.

I have borrowed from Hokusai the elements of landscape paintings, depicting the sublime and evocative of other powerful emotions. My work, The Urban Sublime, provokes philosophical, intellectual and political objectives. The large wave is about to crash into the city shore, depicting the ocean of migrants which the city holds or is about to hold within itself. The broken objects floating around are devoid of their human counterparts. They are shown drowning in the million human voices, just about to disappear in the city. The work deals with the power of this wave of migration, which controls the city by its reasons and needs.