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Conversations with Udita Upadhyaya

Today we’d like to introduce you to Udita Upadhyaya.

Hi Udita, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I am an artist, an educator, and a birthworker. I started creating art as a way to unearth memories and stories beyond my individual experience. Art is a way that I found my sense of self as a teenager and it has continued to be a form of living and understanding the world around.

I am an interdisciplinary artist and I find so much joy in exploring a variety of mediums depending on the story I am telling. I love working with text and textile. I also love performing and creating performances – live works in public, in galleries and on stage. I really enjoy when the audience has to participate in my work, either in small subtle ways like drawing close to see details, tilting their necks to read a phrase or in a more clear participatory performance way, offering their stories, letting themselves be literally hugged or held in a gallery space. I believe in this as the transformative power of community and presence. I come to body-based art with the background of Vipassana meditation, where witnessing ourselves and each other is how we heal. One such participatory performance/workshop, “Guidelines for Collapse and Care” is upcoming this summer at Sovern, 5757 West Adams Blvd.

This community care is one of the intersecting values with my work in reproductive justice. In 2020 I trained with Birthworkers of Color to be a full-spectrum doula. As a birth worker, I extend the principles of deep listening, education, and permission (simply to be human) as I support folks as they go through big life transitions, as they birth, find, or otherwise nurture their families.

About the upcoming event:
Guidelines for Collapse and Care (August 20, 2022 11am-1pm)
Udita Upadhyaya, an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and birth worker, invites you to an afternoon of rest and introspective community care. Together we will build a space of healing and rest in the presence of each other. In the context of this long-enduring pandemic, we repair simply by slowing down to witness each other and letting ourselves be witnessed.

This performance was previously shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago in 2018. It has since been reworked to address our collective loss and growth from living through Covid19.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Finding art (and committing to an ongoing creative practice) has not been the easiest journey. I was raised with a lot of pressure to do a more lucrative “real job,” to relegate art to the background, and just “do art on the weekends.”

It took some years of being really miserable in other jobs to realize how much a creative life meant to me – and I am so grateful that now I get to build a life full of creative expression. The struggles have ranged from applications (for an artist visa, as I was born and raised in India) to the burnout from continuously having to prove to the government that one is an artist and worthy of staying here in the US. And there are also the regular, almost mundane fears of success and failure, fear of the blank page, and the depletion from surviving the isolation of the pandemic. I moved to LA shortly before the pandemic, and finding community here has been a recent struggle, as is the weight of not performing live in front of an audience; I am really grateful that those opportunities are back and presenting themselves again – both to watch and make live art! We need that as humans!

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am so drawn to fiber works. I literally dream in fabric: it is something that comes from being raised in India where I was surrounded with intricate, varied textiles. I am currently working with intuitive embroidery and making quilts. I am exploring the ideas of inner landscapes rendered in fabric; sometimes the stitches look like water and tornadoes as big feelings, and other times they look like lost language, a feeling that cannot be reached or confirmed. I love using intuition to guide me, embracing chance and mistakes to drive this style. I have also been creating paintings in ink that are built by spilling ink and water on the paper. I think of these as conversations with the gravity.

I attempt to carry this flavor of error into my text art as well, so I tilt the angle of the writing, or write upside down, or use too many spaces or no spaces to cause confusion and engage in the viewer’s subconscious. I encourage a misreading of the words – it is a way to feel the limits of what we know and understand about our world. I am always working on various projects at once, but what ties them all together is that I make room for the hard emotions of grief, longing, and loss. I offer solutions for them, which often can feel like staying with the confusion, exploring loss by losing, exploring longing by being held or witnessing others be held. These can be found most successfully by working collaboratively on devised theatre works or interactive performances: I love inviting other voices in the story to create a fuller picture, a deeper experience of being alive.

We all have a different way of looking at and defining success. How do you define success?
The pandemic has hugely altered my sense of success and it has completely reorganized my priorities. Before the lockdowns there was rigor and almost unrelenting set of goals that kept moving further and further: that was the driving force. Now, I am leaning into slowness and repair both in my work (where I am hand stitching and really taking my time, even when it’s tedious and my impatience kicks in) and in the everyday ways I want to build my life. I am embracing a slow, mindful, and delicate daily structure. At each step, I am asking myself, “what is the kindest thing to do next?” That is my path to success for now.

Birth work has also helped me restructure success to align with the idea of connection and community care and how much of a difference you can make. It is not a numbers game – it is an ability to witness another and let yourself be witnessed. It is about a viewer or a collaborator carrying the artwork and/or experience with them for longer than the moment that you are together.

Contact Info:

  • Email: udita.upadhyaya@gmail.com
  • Instagram: @uditau

Image Credits
Esther Espino, Caleb Neubauer, and others

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