An Assam-born British artist has tweaked the common Indian truck art to showcase on wheels the contribution of migrants to the British society.
Inspired by the “moving art on Indian highways”, Lata Upadhyaya began working on her white transport van a few months ago. The mix of Indian art forms, Chinese motifs, and European designs took the van to Firstsite, a leading contemporary art gallery and part of the Tate Plus network of galleries near London.
The decorated van is now travelling across England, and is scheduled to move from Harlow to Birmingham and Nottingham. Such has been the response to ‘Transit: The Identity of a White Van’ that Ms. Upadhyaya’s exhibition calendar is booked for two years.
The work was commissioned by Arts Council England, which has supported Ms. Upadhyaya in developing her work over the last five years.
“I have used my white van, a very common goods transporter in these parts, to reflect the role and contribution that migrants have made to the British society,” Ms. Upadhyaya, 46, told The Hindu from London.
Daughter of Nandlal Upadhyaya — a pioneer of Assam’s dairy cooperative movement, Ms. Upadhyaya is from Jagiroad, about 60 km east of Guwahati.
“My work reflects upon my own life and experience of migrating from the East to the West. Transit brings together my origins in India and my life in Britain; the white van represented a blank canvas, a British symbol as well as a lack of identity. I wanted the white van to take on a new British identity, one that represents all of the people that live here, all the different communities and celebrates what being British and living in Britain means,” she said.
According to Firstsite director Sally Shaw, Ms. Upadhyaya’s installation “builds upon the gallery’s ongoing examination of identity”. In decorating the ubiquitous white transit van in the manner of Indian truck art, while also mixing in various other national symbols, such as the Chinese dragon, “Lata has metamorphosed a functional vehicle into an artwork that reflects the cultural vibrancy of contemporary Britain,” she said.
A specialist in contemporary sculpture with a Masters from the Slade School of Fine Art in London, Ms. Upadhyaya is also famed for her 2016 project called ‘6,919 km: the Journey of a Rickshaw’.
She had transformed a rickshaw with brightly-coloured depictions of Indian and U.K. culture to celebrate its journey from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh to the U.K.
“The rickshaw is doing the gallery rounds and is also being driven about,” she said.