b. 1971, in Mumbai, India


Dhruvi Acharya is a Mumbai-based artist whose works are characterised by psychologically complex narratives, peppered with dark humour. Her works transform human-forms of her mostly female protagonists to echo their temperaments, often deploying empty speech or thought bubbles to convey unspeakable sentiments. Drawing from her own life, Acharya’s oeuvre unravels like a personal diary — it showcases an urban woman’s tribulations in a world seething with gender inequalities, ecological disasters, and emotional upheavals, all portrayed with critical distance. 


Acharya completed her undergraduate studies in Applied Arts from the Sophia Polytechnic in Mumbai. Following her marriage, she moved to the US in the 1990s, where homesickness inspired her to draw and paint her memories of home. She studied painting with the renowned Abstract Expressionist, Grace Hartigan, Director of the Hoffberger School of Painting, Maryland Institute College of Art, from where she received her MFA in 1998. Her early paintings such as A Life Divided (1998) and Mumbai (1999) feature ‘memory landscapes’ that combined a western aesthetic of colour-field painting with flattened perspectives inspired by Indian miniature paintings.  


Drawing from Amar Chitra Katha’s illustrated stories that she read as a child, elegant Mughal folios, particularly from the Padshahnama, as well as the work of artists such as Juan Miro, Takashi Murakami, Lari Pittman, and Barry McGee, Acharya’s paintings progressively evolved into multi-layered narratives. She used humour to address issues like the cultural discrimination against women, as she developed her distinctive visual vocabulary.


Thought and speech bubbles started to appear in Acharya’s works with paintings like April (2000), and collages from Amar Chitra Katha with works like Captive (2001). Her protagonists, embodying roles of the mother, goddess, or women are depicted in reticent gestures with empty thought balloons stemming from their heads. Her paintings featured predatory foliage and tear drops, visuals that recur across her practice. In Paint (2004), a female artist stares vacantly at an empty canvas, reckoning with creative anxiety. Paintings such as Body Bed (2002) and Hot Air (2003) capture notions of maternity. Acharya’s own experience of being a mother features profoundly in her works such as The Final Frontier and Wham! Bam! Kerplonk!Splat! (2006) that portray her son amidst super-heroes, influenced by a society that encourages machismo. 


Having moved to Mumbai in 2003, Acharya’s works also increasingly revealed the sociological and environmental hazards of humanity’s unbridled pillaging of earth’s natural resources. Her ambitious multi-panelled painting Air Fair (2008), appropriated advertisements, featuring words like ‘Gasp,’ or ‘Buy Breath,’ to depict how even clean air is commoditised and Airfare (2008) shows a landscape with her andromorphic protagonists warring over breathable air. 


The interplay between text and image is fundamental to Acharya’s work. The empty speech bubbles in her paintings invite viewers to interpret the blanks based on visual narratives. Her 2008 series, Words reversed the typical relationship between image and text in her works, concealing the figures and emphasising their speech. Here, the text, with accompanying illustrations painted over, enables viewers to grasp stories that draw from folk tales where women are dutiful wives and daughters, as expected by society. Her painting Woman and Men (2016) situates a female and three identical men in a canvas covered with texts relating to the experiences of widows in India. Words of Kindness (2016) echoes things she was told after her husband’s passing, and in the paintings Weigh (2019) and Femina (2019), female bodies are covered with derogatory words used against women. Acharya persistently addresses patriarchy, impractical beauty ideals, and sexual-violence through further representations of the female body in varied dispositions - menstruating, pregnant, or overweight, shedding light on the toxic social encounters that women typically deal with. 


In 2010, Acharya lost her father and husband, and was propelled into a state of intense sorrow. A 2013 commission for a 32-foot mural for JSW plunged her back into painting, and in 2014 she participated in Chemould Prescott Road’s 50th anniversary show with a 17-foot scroll that documented her 16 years with her late husband. In 2016 she showed a new body of work in a major solo exhibition entitled, ‘After the Fall’. Alongside paintings, this show featured a soft sculptural installation, What once was, still is, but isn’t, where people could enter a floating bedroom in which all the furniture was made of fabric. Wallpapered with thousands of drawings, the dreamlike space invited viewers to experience the disorientation that one faces in the early days of grief where dreams nightmares and reality seem to all merge. Her paintings in the exhibition embodied the emotional states of coming to terms with and living with profound loss. Her works have since engaged further with questions of mortality, counterpointed with the pleasures of charting through life, and the experiences of a middle-aged woman. 


When India’s Janata Curfew was announced in March 2020, Acharya embarked upon a series of works, Painting in the Time of Coronaresponding to the disruption caused by the Pandemic. Her works poignantly responded to issues of health care, effects of isolation, the condition of daily wage labourers, and the suffering of people around the world. The trope of the reclusive woman persists in her works even as they invite viewers to consider their own sentiments and experiences by actively filling all the deliberately blank spaces in her narratives, through a reflection upon human coexistence. 


The artist lives and works in Mumbai, India.

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