Strands of reflection

Written by Suman Tarafdar | Updated: Feb 1 2010, 05:27am hrs
Rarely has the artist put herself with such success at the centre of her paintings simultaneously reflecting her concerns as Anju Dodiya has. But then hers has been a rigourous practice over decades. The figuration of the humans is what interested her from an early stage, and that fascination holds. To start with, it was the artists self, later it was a figurative self, says the Mumbai-based artist, who is showing in Delhi after a long gap.

By recent standards, her latest show, Necklace of Echoes, on at Delhis Vadehra Gallery in Okhla till February 21, is not largenine large paintings and along with a set of seven much smaller ones on a part of a wall. But a walk-around can be draining on the viewer nevertheless the emotional wealth imbued in each canvas takes time to absorb, especially each highlights social and mental concerns. The expressions arent pretty, but then pretty isnt what you come to Dodiya for. Shes been about hard-edged introspection, almost abstract but strong narratives, violence - covert, of the mind, but expressed in an overt way. Daggers and blood are aplenty!

All of the works in this show are united by the necklace - which might as well be known by its less complimentary synonyms here, for the artist continues to use them more for the captive, constricting facets than as any adornment. I have painted the necklace off and on, says Dodiya, explaining them as various little things beaded together. The necklace is used as a metaphor, a dramatic prop for a character who's the protagonist. It's been part of my work. Here it became necklace after necklace.

Her art is informed by the look within the self. I do not believe in black and white. My paintings are a reflection. The Buddhist version of the story of Angulimal is a story of delusion. It's about you and me and the games we play with our minds. A lot of my work is about looking within.

The water colour portraits here are all of women, amongst her hallmarks. Dodiya says, The paintings are of women, but they are not interested in their gender, their sexuality does not matter. What hits you is the pain. As Akbar Padamsee said, art never comes out of life. Art comes out of art. She describes her process of how these paintings evolved. Over the years, I have been cutting out images of people struck by devastation, images that disturb me. Then may be I recall a scene from a Bergman film and then the sense of calm allows me to return to that image. It's a circular journey of art-life-art. I value looking at people. To that end, Dodiya's images have contained props and characters of remarkable detailing, observed straight from life.

Abstraction has been an attribute of her work, but she started with the more mundane. When I started out, I was more interested in the physical world. For example, domestic settings of the middle classa Godrej almirah in a room or a sofa. Then myth began interesting me. I have used Daphne in my works. Now there is a level of abstraction. There is density in the medium. Now there is much to say - and I have to decide how much to reveal. There is greater maturity now.

She is not perturbed that the new Indian art buyer is looking to reflect his confident self in the art he buys. I feel one should trust the viewer. Just as I have a rich emotional life, the collector too has one. Which is why possibly we hear sad songs. Her connect with the viewer has been very rewarding and when it's a personal response, I value that. A painting with a slit neck was one of the first to be sold in this show, she points out.

And no money is still not important, though the prices of her works have been consistently pointing north, even in troubled times. I come from a time when you understood that as an artist, you were going to die hungry. I have seen Tyeb Mehta moving his canvasses himself. Prabhakar Barve painting in his tiny bedroom, Padamsee struggling people made a huge deal when the Tyeb Mehta's painting was sold for a huge amount. The great moments should have been when he first painted the diagonal.

She is forthright about the necessity of an artist's dedication to the vocation. Art is killing. It demands all of you. And that shows in your work. The situation is a little different now, she says. It's become a career. What I miss from earlier times is the inner sense. Now it is all about where you are showing, who's buying etc. I am quite grounded. There should be no compromise in what I am doing. I should be reading, thinking, traveling to see original art - that's very crucial for growth. I would just leave money matters to the gallerists.

She also bemoans the fact that the growth of art infrastructure in India is very slow. India could do with better infrastructure, she says. I wish we had more museums and queues outside museums. With artists such as her gaining prominence, that too shall hopefully come to pass as viewer finds apt reflections.