Review by Georgina Maddox
February 15, 2015


Imagined Immortals
Anju Dodiya
January 17-February 14, 2015
Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi

The Mumbai–based Anju Dodiya’s artwork can never be taken at face value, for her works appear lyrical and beautiful on the surface but present a deep sense of disquiet and enigma that reveals itself on closer inspection. Whether it is the word ‘knife’ floating innocuously in a composition or a snake slithering toward a medical diagram of the bust of a man, there is always a duality to her images. In Dodiya’s hands lovers appear to embrace and wrestle at the same time and diagrams of human viscera appear deceptively pretty when juxtaposed with appealing images of flower-encrusted dinner-wear or burgeoning peach-blossoms.

Her current solo exhibition at Vadhera Art Gallery titled, Imagined Immortals showcases a suite of 37 works that include mixed media with gouache and collage elements sourced from old medical journals that enhance their timeless quality. “The figuration mimics that of medieval European illustrations and the narrative is formed by abstract symbols of immortality like the therapeutic creepers, honeycombs, peach blossoms and for the artist - her studio paraphernalia: her brush” says Dodiya. Collage is not new to the works of Dodiya who used to create collage works during her college years at the Sir J.J. School of Art. In this exhibition she revisits her dalliance with collage giving it a more full-bodied and thoughtful essence.

Self-portraits have always been her strong point and ‘Anju the artist’ appears as both spectator and participant in her own paintings often enough—this being no exception. “Imagined Immortals’ explores mortality, the fragile nature of the human body and the heroic aspirations that keep it going,” says Dodiya who has begun reflecting on mortality more than her previous works, after her mother’s demise.  In fact her last solo exhibition, Necklace of Echoes (2009) dwelt primarily on the theme of mortality and loss. While her works have evolved since the solo in 2009, the question of death continues to shadow her work.

In this current body of works however, Dodiya injects a bit of humor in works that are otherwise somber: In the mixed media work, Fisherwoman's Web, a woman, presumably the artist herself, stands amid a patch of medicinal plants with a fishing line in her hand, luring another unsuspecting woman, also the artist, with the bate of a quick cure. On either side of the composition are two diagrams of giant legs covered in what can only be varicose veins.

The other rather humorous work, titled Landmark propagates cures for the near-sighted. The protagonist appears positively petrified as a medieval diagram-instrument hovers over her eyeball. One cannot help but gently chuckle at the prospect of aging or even loss of vision while viewing this gently amusing artwork.

In the Road Not Taken Dodiya returns to her thoughtful lyrical self as her protagonist appears to be watching the sunset with two reindeer, another recurring motif in the artist’s work. In the lower register of the work the protagonist appears to be riding the spotted reindeer while directing it to take the road-less-taken. One is immediately reminded of Lewis Carol’s Through the Looking Glass where Alice meets many strange and wonderful animals in her dream of self-discovery.  Viewers of this exhibition have ringside seats to witness the artist’s ‘internal monologue.’

Her larger watercolors like Accordion of Uncertainty - I & II, ruminate on the similarities and polarities between the genders; while Panic Room, speaks of the woman juggling roles as artist, mother and caregiver. The central protagonist in this work looks confrontationally at the viewer while smaller images of the self appear juggling several heads, while another self is dressed in an evening gown that is being tugged at by a small child who appears hidden in the shadows.  At fifty it is hardly likely that Dodiya is speaking of her own struggle given that her daughter is quite grown up. One may deduce that it is more of the generic state of women who work.

While attempting these readings of her work one is aware that Dodiya’s visual imagery is never complete without the final image— that of the struggle to paint. Seen with a brush clamped between her teeth the artist appears with a blank sheet of paper, books and implements strewn around as she sits clumsily on a staircase watching a dramatic sunset. The struggle is ongoing, the pain and pleasure a constant duality. 

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