b. 1964, in Mumbai, India
Mumbai-based artist, Anju Dodiya is renowned for her sensitive ‘fictional self-portraits’ that confront the terrifying act of creation. Dodiya graduated from the Sir JJ Schoolof Art in 1986, and since the 1990s has been recognised as among the most prominent artists of her generation. As a dedicated watercolourist, she pushes her medium to its limit on challenging surfaces in terms of scale and texture. Her works frequently juxtapose delicate and seemingly spontaneous watercolour smudges and stains against hard-lined charcoal incursions. Her first exhibition, a fictional autobiography (1991) at Gallery Chemould featured small-sized watercolour self-portraits of an artist/girl in a room, reckoning with creative anxiety. Over the decades, Dodiya has expanded her scale and visual vocabulary, carefully layering references from poetry, miniature paintings, Renaissance masters, Japanese Ukio-e prints, European cinema, and recently, Instagram. In her introspective works, viewers “encounter a palimpsest of art history, cinema, haute couture and private joke,” cultural theorist Nancy Adajania has expressed.
Mythical women such as Daphne, Penelope, and Arachne have appeared in Dodiya’s paintings as protagonists embodying notions of vulnerability, or involved in the rhythm of labour. In paintings such as Circuit of the Gong (1998) Dodiya compares Athena’s birth from Jupiter’s head to the violent act of pulling ideas out of one’s mind.
In 2005, Dodiya was commissioned to depict the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, a large-scale work she realised on a double-bed installed upright on a wall. Mattresses and madarpat, the unbleached cotton that lines beds and sofas, are now recurrent materials in her practice. They serve as compelling surfaces for investigations of the private, domestic, and nocturnal. Dodiya has referred to them as ‘pregnant paintings.’ Sculptural by default, such works became architectural devices in her iconic exhibition, The Throne of Frost (2007), an installation at the Durbar Hall of the Lakshmi Vilas Palace, Baroda. Here, Dodiya’s drawings could be viewed from a distance or as reflections on shards of mirrors on the floor, appearing in conversation with the ornate space. Ambiguous portraits of princesses holding pencil staves, a decadent Wajid Ali, and acrobats igniting continents, generated an elusive maze of emotion.
Her exhibition Room for Erasures (2012) at Chemould Prescott Road, invited viewers to erase portions of her large-scale drawings. Part memorial to the idea of vandalism in art, Dodiya relinquished control of her drawings to the viewer’s eraser.Her digital prints, Circuit for Erasures (2012) paired personal photographs with images of her artworks to meditate on memory and loss.
Dodiya investigates the act of remembrance through the fragility of the human body in a series of collages in The Book of Endings (2013) and in Death Robe (2013). She mentions filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and poet, Sylvia Plath as important sources of inspiration in her sometimes playful representations and explorations of the absurd. Dodiya contemplates the goriest of subjects with elegance - bare skulls, mythical beasts, and medieval torture devices. Saints, pilgrims, warriors, and poets become one person in her work. In paintings such as Paper Storm (2010) and Target and Studio (with Phoenix) (2019), we repeatedly see the artist’s paraphernalia —sharp pencils and eager paintbrushes serve as weapons. Pierce (2019), influenced by Ukiyo-e prints, depicts the artist as a samurai tackling the white of a canvas, in a theatrical gesture.
Dodiya’s narratives often feature curtains, costumes, and spotlights to negotiate the real and the imaginary. Rehearsal of an apocalypse (2018), a large-scale painting featured at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2018) confronts the possible end of the world with irony and an actor’s sense of distance. Scenes of terror alternate with the exposed vulnerable self.
Dodiya’s works ask viewers to unravel stories, without disclosing their full narratives. She pushes herself to be uninhibitedly immersed inthe consuming act of making art.