Artist Hemu gives life to Chennai a.k.a Madras buildings thru’ drawings


Chennai: At the age of nine, a teacher told Hemalatha Venkataraman that she cannot learn art, when she wanted to enrol in her class.

Fast forward two decades, she is now 27, an artist who brings dilapidated, boring heritage structures to life with her sketches and paintings.

Anna Nagar Tower

Hemalatha, who has her roots in Chennai, is currently put up at Columbus, Ohio and works as a design researcher, tours often and can be seen with a book/iPad sketching rich and glorious structures.
At present, she is working on her ongoing series – #100DaysOfTeaBagArt.

“The teacher, back then, told me I cannot learn art. I was heartbroken. My mother told me about her friend’s child learning art from a tutor and brought me her books and I would just copy the drawings,” chuckles Hemalatha as she spoke to News Today about how her journey began.

Following this, she went on to graduate as an architect from a college in Chennai. Before pursuing postgraduation, she came up with The Madras Catalogue sketching selective heritage structures such as Royapettah streetscape, Victoria Public Hall, Egmore Wesley Church and Madras Central in the city.

Kapaleeswarar temple

“The city has got something new to offer every time although I lived in Madras for more than 20 years,” says Hema.

When asked about what the series taught her, she says, “I realised the city has so many hidden gems. It is not just colonial-era structures but the rich and vibrant history behind every one of them. I express Madras through my sketches detailing the architectural marvel and history.”

Museum Theatre

In a few months, she relocated to USA and pursued Master of Fine Arts. When she came back to her home city for vacation in 2017, she had the urge to sketch something and started #MadrasInMini series that featured the flavour of Madras in miniature version.

“Again, the city inspired me. But it is not just the monuments that make Madras what it is, but also people,” she says, and adds, “When I was doing the live-sketching, an akka selling pakkoda saw me, offered me a place to continue drawing from her stall and gave eateries to munch on until I was done.”

Recalling another incident, the artist, known as ‘Hemu’ to her Facebook followers, says, “For long, I wanted to sketch the library that appeared in the film Mouna Ragam. I landed by mistake at the doorsteps of Connemara library. I got an opportunity to visit the old building which was the most beautiful structure I have ever seen.”

Madras Literary Society library

But that is not all. To put it in Paulo Coelho’s words, “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

Similarly, after seeing her drawings, the general secretary of the library that appeared in the movie (Madras Literary Society) invited Hemalatha to sketch, helping her fulfil her desire.

Speaking about the identity it gave her, the artist-traveller-writer says, “When I was sketching one of the monuments, I had a random person recognising me through my art and asked if I were Hemu.”

Even as she is working on her current series, Hemalatha carefully handpicks the places after researching whenever she travels. “Georgia has a lot of history, even overwhelmingly so, sometimes. It’s beautiful but its history is haunting in more places than one,” she says.



Although she has been into art for long, Hemalatha did not wear the cape of an artist. She shares, “America gave me an interesting identity through discovery and recognition.”

“Columbus Association for the Performing Arts (CAPA) is a prestigious society that has historic theatres. Once I was done sketching the exterior, I was doubtful of doing the interiors. It was a unique experience when I was permitted inside,” she says with infectious joy.

Bhavani Prabhakar