EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH

Review by Oiendrila Moitra
December 15, 2013

 

Experiments with Truth
Atul Dodiya Works 1981-2013
Curated by Ranjit Hoskote
November 15, 2013 onwards
National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi -110 003

The exhibition, Experiments with Truth: Atul Dodiya, Works 1981-2013, commissioned by the NGMA in collaboration with the Vadehra Art Gallery, offers viewers an extensive survey of the career of one of India’s most significant contemporary artists with a flow of 12 conceptual and thematic zones within the gallery. The title of the exhibition hints not only at his preoccupation with ‘the artist of non-violence’, Mahatma Gandhi, who has been a point of reference in several of his works, but also the realism that pervades his subjects. Curator Ranjit Hoskote has undertaken a massive exercise by bringing together as many as 130 works of the contemporary artist, and the collection includes several pieces which haven’t been seen in years by the artist and also Delhi viewers. “Even I am seeing some of my works after years,” says Atul   Dodiya during the Talk Show at the event.

Dodiya’s own artistic journey has been conducted as a series of ‘experiments with truth’. And the journey begins from his early portraits, which Dodiya reveals have never been exhibited. This exhibition presents oil paintings, water colors, shutter installations, sculpture installations and cabinet assemblages. “I grew up in a crawl and there were no artists in my family. Now of course, my wife is an artist, my daughter is studying art but my father, grandfather or mother…they were not artists” says Dodiya adding that for him a scholar and a common man are equal.  Wit and humor hardly go missing from his work.

 The exhibition also comprises a new series titled "Painted Photographs/Paintings Photographed", positioned in Jaipur House, a result of thoughts and ideas that hounded Dodiya for over 10 years. It juxtaposes his fascination for European art history and Gandhian freedom struggle on the same canvas. The figure of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, whose autobiography the title of the show refers to, has occupied a crucial place in Dodiya’s consciousness. But his compulsive revisiting of Gandhi’s life and philosophy in a range of work, executed in various media, and has yielded many layers of meaning. On entering the gallery, one is confronted by a portrait, entitled Father, depicting a man seated on a sofa—who is, presumably, the artist’s biological parent. Dodiya treats the field of cultural action as a site for inquiry, debate, play and illumination; much as Gandhi treated discourse as a site for the exercise of these preoccupations.  Dodiya has painted popular black-and-white images from 1910 to 1948, and put them side-by-side with photographs of paintings by artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Rousseau. A significant body of Dodiya’s work consists of diptychs made of painted photographs and photographic paintings, juxtaposing scenes from Gandhi’s private and public lives with instances of 20th century modernist paintings. From Piet Mondrian’s stark grids to Marcel Duchamp’s spectral Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2, replicas of classic art appear next to the vignettes of Gandhi’s life and times preserved in the iconic photographs.

Intended as it is to provide a panoramic survey of Dodiya’s artistic production over the last three decades, this exhibition maps his transition from the easel painting to a practice premised on the installation and social space, his adaptation of popular art as a political strategy of representation, his invention of an artistic genealogy through which to define an amplified, transcultural selfhood.