Artist Lata Upadhyaya Transforms Transit White Van into Message of Multiculture

Wednesday 30th May 2018 09:53 EDT

How can an Indian origin British artist create a symbol of internationalism out of something that came to represent British nationalism pre the Brexit vote? 

Meet Lata Upadhyaya, from Essex, who has turned ordinary vehicles into lovely symbols of multiculturalism with many south Asian accents. Lata Upadhyaya has created a wondrous, colourfully decorated white van that embodies famous motifs from the different communities that live in Essex and the wider UK. 

Transit: The Identity of a White Van has been made possible through gallery Firstsite’s partnership with Essex Cultural Diversity Project, Essex County Council. It has also received support from Arts Council England, Colchester Council, and Thurrock Borough Council. 

Lata Upadhyaya specialises in contemporary sculpture. She holds an MFA in Sculpture from the Slade School of Fine Art, London and a BA Fine Arts (1995) and MFA in Sculpture (1998) from MS University, Baroda, India. Transit builds upon Upadhyaya’s 2016 project, 6,919km: The Journey of a Rickshaw, in which the artist transformed a rickshaw with brightly coloured depictions of Indian and Essex culture (including portraits of Russell Brand, Grayson Perry and Jamie Oliver) to celebrate its journey from Meerut, India, to Clacton-on-Sea. 

Lata told us how Transit came to be.

“My work reflects upon my own life and experience of migrating from East to 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.

What lies behind Lata’s need to create art pieces involving well known vehicles.

“When the opportunity came along to restore and create an artwork out of an old Indian cycle rickshaw in 2014, I developed the concept of re-incarnating the rickshaw with a new identity, that of it’s new home in Essex. I used the rickshaw as a canvas and instead of painting it in an Indian style, I transferred this into the style of Essex. When I started to think about my next artwork, I wanted to do the opposite, take a British vehicle, that represented Essex and give it a new identity.

Essex has the highest number of white van drivers in the UK and also with Ford being based in Dagenham, the Transit van seemed the perfect choice.”

How Lata Upadhyaya’s puts her art works together.

“I always start with lots of research; what is the traditional style of these vehicles; how is the vehicle decorated; what does the decoration represent. I then carry out further research with different communities, find out what identity means to them and develop the concept further. By further evolving the ideas I start to develop sketches of what could be represented on the vehicle. I then decide on how I will use the canvas, paint for the rickshaw and vinyl for the van, as these are the methods that are regularly used in their countries of origin. For the van I designed all of the artwork digitally and then this was printed on vinyl and fitted on the van.”

You may be surprised to learn that both of the recent art works, the transit van and the rickshaw, are working vehicles. Lata says, “Yes, a key part of the artwork is that the vehicles are functional, that they can travel. They represent the notion of the journey of migration.” 

What is rarely discussed in public is how art works get their funding for this is what the artist lives on while she creates.

“I have been fortunate to work with great partners on the projects and therefore have developed strong relationships with them. By extensively researching each project and planning what will be involved and what the outcomes of each project will be, I have managed to be successful on each occasion. From idea to completion each project takes around 18 months and around 12 months from each grant award. The key is not to be complacent, I work harder on each application and have been very luck so far.”

And Lata Upadhyaya’s next project?

“Transit will continue to travel throughout the next year and during this time I will develop the ideas for the next project. I develop several concepts at a time and then seek feedback from previous partners and peers to inform which I will
prioritise next.”
“Transit brings together my origins in India and my life in Britain.” Lata Upadhyaya

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