Anju Dodiya (b. 1964) is a Bombay based artist known for her unique style with multilayered watercolours that draw inspiration from Japanese woodcuts and prints, Renaissance masters, Greek Mythology and antique textile traditions to create works that often include a “fictional self-portrait” of the artist. Dodiya studied at the Sir JJ School of Art and since the early 1990s she has been recognized as one of the most important Indian artists of her generation, exhibiting in important exhibitions such as the 53rd Venice Biennale curated by Daniel Birnbaum. Parallel to the layers that she creates in her paintings, collage is also an important part of her practice, and some of her most celebrated works contain elements of fabrics, newspaper clippings, and even whole mattresses that accentuate intimate dream-like quality of her work that is often emotionally charged with melancholy. Critic Nancy Adajania has mentioned “Beneath the intricate paraphernalia of art-historical and autobiographical citations associated with her work, [Dodiya] reflects selfhood wounded, and selfhood armored against hurt in all her paintings.”
Ranjit Hoskote maintains that Dodiya’s paintings are parables, and “remind us to keep watch over the instabilities that threaten to overturn us.” Mythical figures such as Daphne, Penelope, and Leda recur in Dodiya’s work, women who are legendary and were able to subtly outwit men. Dodiya grew up in an upper-middle class family in Bombay, one of the most populated cities in the world, and fittingly, Dodiya looks inward in her work to avoid the chaos and imposing expectations of the world around her. In a 2004 watercolour work, Daphne, Dodiya’s “fictional self-portrait” of herself as Daphne transforms not into a tree, but into a labyrinth, protecting her soul from ever being reached or conquered.
Labyrinths recur in Dodiya’s work as a motif. One of Dodiya’s most celebrated exhibitions in India was “Throne of Frost” at the historic Laxmi Villas of Baroda in 2007. She placed shards of mirrors all over the Durbar hall and the reflections transformed her works into a labyrinth of emotion containing references to the complex connections the artist draws between European medieval motifs and contemporary life in India. Many of the works were painted on mattresses. The physical presence of these works bulge into the space and it is fitting that the artist has referred to these as pregnant paintings. Mattresses reference bodies, relationships, sleep, love, and dreams – as well as the labyrinths of experience that connect them all.
Twenty-one years after her first solo show at Chemould in 1991, Dodiya presented “Room for Erasure” at Gallery Chemould Prescott Road- an exhibition that contained three works with a radical proposition that viewers should erase them. Perhaps the armor that Dodiya built around herself over the past decade in her fictional self portraits helped provide the self-possession to relinquish herself to the hands of the viewer. Nancy Adajania proposes that perhaps the artist was invoking the viewer to help her escape a stereotype about her signature style that might have been constricting her, and as in all her works, “Altar for Erasure” references art history (in this case- Robert Rauchenberg and de Kooning). One powerful work in the exhibition, Pink Scream, beautifully brings the viewer into the angst of creation. Dodiya provides more insight into this angst with a series called “Circuit for Erasures.” These digital prints collaged with watercolour and fabric mounts paired personal photographs of the artist with images of her artworks that developed from the emotional states depicted in the photographs. Dodiya rubbed her practice down to its most raw element in this exhibition- her inner emotions and vulnerability that transform into such powerful imagery.