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DEEPANJANA PAL
CULTURE MULCHER

Deepanjana Pal is books editor at DNA

Echoes of Dodiya’s conceptual style resonate in vivid hues

Pink Scream

n Anju Dodiya's new show, Room for Erasures, there's a painting titled Pink Scream. In it, you see a woman, seated and wearing a pink robe. She's holding a paintbrush in one hand and the expression on her face is one of shock. She looks like she's about to leap up. Facing this painter is an enormous, misshapen head. It's as though the brain is spilling out of the skull. Pink Scream is a strange painting because it's a moment from a horror film put together using delicate watercolours. At the same time, there's something almost comically theatrical in the posture and expression of the painter. Then there's the head. You've seen that face. It's shown up in a number of Dodiya's paintings. Pink Scream is the artist seeing how she's emerged in her own works — it isn't a straightforward likeness; it's out of her control.

Dodiya draws on her own experiences, places them without much facade into her art and then leaves it to the viewer to piece together a narrative or draw connections with a larger context. She's unusual in this, so far as Indian art is concerned. Usually, our artists create works that are steeped in concepts rather than autobiography. Yet, if you ask her about her paintings, Dodiya doesn't talk about the personal angle in her works despite having put herself on display. Some may find this frustrating, but it's one of the aspects of Dodiya's art that I've loved over the years. The experiences may be Dodiya's but the feelings are not particular to her. We've all felt them —self-consciousness about the way we look, the sense of being scarred, the need to create an emotional distance between the facade we hold up in public and our private selves, the desire to erase and make new beginnings. The best of Dodiya's art is rich with finesse and sophisticated technique that just about contains feelings that are as raw as a freshly-picked wound.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but while Room for Erasures has many beautiful paintings, only a few of the works made me catch my breath. Beasts, for example, throbs with a picturesque violence that is chilling. In one corner is a blood spatter that would cheer Dexter's heart. Below the figure of a woman is being torn apart by animals. A fat, red curling ribbon of blood lies near her. The colours in the painting are dark and earthy, and so all you see at first is the blood, a woman's outstretched arm and her face. It doesn't have the over-the-top expression of Pink Scream. The muted expression on her face, however, is far more expressive. The horror of being attacked when you're defenceless is unmistakable.

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Usually, our artists create works that are steeped in concepts rather than autobiography. Yet, Dodiya doesn’t talk about the personal angle in her works

here was a theatricality in many of them that made me nostalgic for Dodiya's older paintings, which would whisper rather than yelp. Still, there are some wonderful works, like Altar For Erasures, which comes with this instruction: "These three drawings are available for every adult viewer to erase." (Note: the stress on "adult". A blank canvas is not child's play.) The enormous wall pieces have little step ladders before them and a shelf of erasers. I can't imagine anyone actually rubbing out any part of the delicate, wraith-like drawings, but there are a few darkened, knobbly erasers on the shelf.

One of my favourites in the show is the series of digital prints placed in a mat of painted canvas, titled Circuit of Erasures. Dodiya lets you glimpse how she has been viewed and how the images of herself have surfaced in her work. Some of the photos highlight discoloured patches on her skin, as though her face is a watercolour mask with sections that are being erased or repainted. One of the most poignant images in Circuit of Erasures shows Dodiya caged in a woven pattern. You ache for her to come out of those restraints.

I confess, I'm a bit of a Anju Dodiya fangirl. I have a soft spot for women who can articulate angst honestly and beautifully, without becoming self-indulgent and whiny. It's a forgivable bias, no?

 
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