Anju Dodiya’s mixed-media paintings explore feminine self

>>Anju Dodiya’s primary subject is the self, yet collage is her chief format to engage with the medium of painting

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Anju Dodiya’s primary subject is the self, yet collage is her chief format to engage with the medium of painting. At the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the Mumbai-based artist showcases two works: one, a painting using mattresses and fabrics on canvas; the other is a collage of self-portraits juxtaposed with abstract works.

 Known for her calm personality, Anju prefers to portray one’s “insignificance” as nothing more than a “witness of civilisation” with regards to the past and present. Its essence finds reflection in the 55-year-old’s work at Fort Kochi’s Aspinwall House, the main venue of the ongoing 108-day festival.

 Quiz the artist about her obsession with the self, and Anju will quickly refute it. “I have often used self-images as a device. That doesn’t mean the stories they tell have anything to do with me. It’s just about using the imagery to make a powerful painting,” she states. “It’s more of an artistic device than a confessional technique. In my works, my lookalikes enact roles in narratives that are often an allegory of the creative process.”

 Anju often draws her artistic inspiration from Indian folk tales, world mythology and Japanese Ukiyo-e prints to delve into her feminine experiences and probe the dimensions of human relationships. Her biennale work ‘Rehearsal for an Apocalypse’ is inspired by the Bible. “The work talks of cataclysm which is to come very soon. The collage of images showcases the various kinds of fear related to the topic,” says the artist, who graduated from Mumbai’s JJ School of Art in 1986.

 Her brightly-coloured miniatures executed with great degree of accuracy are based on Bible reproductions, constructing images of fear that can be viewed as talismans to distance the fear. “The work refers to the irony with which one confronts the idea of apocalypse today,” says Anju, who was nominated for the Sotheby’s Prize for contemporary art in 1998 and 2000.

 For her work at the biennale she has used fabrics from different parts of the world. “Whenever I travel, I have got a habit of collecting fabrics. So the work features fabrics from different parts of the world, signifying that everyone has a preconceived notion about apocalypse,” adds Anju, a winner of the ‘Harmony Award’ in 1999 apart from Indo-American Society’s ‘Young Achiever Award’ in 2001.

 Her second installation at the biennale features 26 framed archival digital prints. “The work is in pairs,” she reveals about the work titled ‘Breathing on Mirrors’, “So there are 13 pairs in total reflecting on a world featuring myself in the work.”

 Each of these pictures in the work has been taken by her husband Atul Dodiya, a renowned artist. “These are taken over years during our vacations or travel across the world in the backdrop of a monument,” Anju notes. “I have never particularly been thinking of a work, but over the past few years I have been going back and revisiting these pictures. I wanted to use them in some way.”

 Each pair has tube-lights flashing harsh brightness on the canvas. “The  pictures of self are paired with abstract work in bamboo paper with painted fabric mounts reflecting on the cosmos and the harsh reality of life,” points out the artist. “I feature myself in my work much like the classical device in literature. It’s my fictional self that appears and disappears. There are activities happening where that person plays a role.”

 The biennale, curated by artiste Anita Dube, is on in 10 venues of the city till March 29.

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