b. 1959, in Mumbai, India
Atul Dodiya is one of India’s most distinguished artists. His works narrate as much about the history of art and the socio-political climate of India, as they are encoded in autobiography. Dodiya grew up in a middle-class Gujarati home in Ghatkopar, Mumbai. He trained at the Sir JJ School of Art and received acclaim early in his career for his paintings inspired by figurative artists such as Bhupen Khakhar, Sudhir Patwardhan, and Gieve Patel. He strengthened his unique vocabulary informed by French and Gujarati literature, Euro-American masters and modernists, global cinema, and popular culture while studying at the École des Beaux-Arts (1991-2).
Dodiya’s painting, The Bombay Buccaneer (1994) marked his departure from photorealism. He produced a satirical interpretation of a poster of the Bollywood film, Baazigar, replacing the image of the actor with a self-portrait of himself posing in a manner of James Bond. In his glasses, Dodiya depicted an image of Bhupen Khakhar in one eye and David Hockney in the other. These references to cinema, artistic predecessors, and the city of Mumbai continue to feature in his practice. In 2001, Dodiya participated in the exhibition, Century City curated by Geeta Kapur and Ashish Rajadhyakshaat the Tate Modern, for which he created the first of his iconic paintings on roller-shutters. He referred to these shutters in response to the curfews during the Bombay riots in the 1990s, when they shielded shops at moments of unrest. Continuing to collage referents ranging from newspaper clippings depicting political imagery to works by Mondrian, Duchamp, and Jasper Johns, to Raja Ravi Varma’s oleograph, his shutter-works such as his Missing series (late 1990s), Dead Ancestors (2012), and Police Crackdown, Bombay, July, 1930 (2015), among others offer takes on political events, personal circumstances, and propagandistic tools.
In response to the violence and rise in fundamentalism during the Bombay riots, Dodiya also turned to the figure of Gandhi, emblematic of peace and secular values, in works such as Lamentation (1997) and Bapu at Rene Block Gallery, New York-1974 (1998). In these paintings, Dodiya exemplifies his ability to fuse history and autobiography, the memory of the self and that of the nation. In his 1999 series, An Artist of Non-Violence, Dodiya narrates Gandhi’s life by portraying mundane details including receipts and pages from his diary. In his 2011 exhibition, Bako Exists, he staged an imaginary friendship between Gandhi and Bako, a young protagonist featured in the Gujarati poet Labhshanker Thaker’s writing. Gujarati poetry has been a strong influence in Dodiya’s work appearing prominently in his Antler Anthology series (2004), exhibited at Documenta 12.
One of Dodiya’s seminal installations, Broken Branches (2003) that was exhibited at the Venice Biennale 2019, is inspired by his visit to Gandhi’s Porbandar home that displays his lettersand photographs in wooden cabinets. In his installation, Dodiya replicated these cabinets, assembling in them - prosthetic limbs, construction tools, and found objects to assert his rejection of intolerance and hate. Since 2003, Dodiya has continued to create cabinet-based installations such as Meditation (with open eyes) (2011), and Fragrance of a paper rose (2018) that are reminiscent of colonial Cabinets of curiosities, carrying forward the archival instinct that his paintings exhibit. These feature details from previous works, art historical texts, and other artefacts. In his photo installation, Celebration in the Laboratory at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012, Dodiya celebrated the figures who have contributed to the development of cultural infrastructure in India. His 2014 exhibition, 7000 Museums: A Project For The Republic Of India at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai, featured his cabinet-installations that were displayed alongside tongue-in-cheek watercolour paintings that proposed museums in cities and towns like Ranchi, Alwar, and Jumritalaiya to raise broader questions surrounding museology.
According to cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote, Dodiya’s “seeming flamboyant maximalism is held in productive counterpoint by his awareness of how fragile the production of culture and the records of history are.” This sensitivity is prominent in his 2017 exhibition, Girlfriends: French, German, Italian, Egyptian, Santiniketan, Ghatkopar… where he returned to figurative painting, revisiting female portraits by masters from a wide range of times and places to generate strong emotions.
The citational qualities of Dodiya’s art, coupled with his extensive exploration of his place within Indian and global contexts reveal that while he identifies distinctly as a citizen of Mumbai, his artistic roots stem from the world at large.