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Dodiya looks for truth in a changing world
Abhirup Dam  23rd Nov 2013

Collecting for the Harijan, 1944 by Atul Dodiya | Vadehra Art Gallery

hen one walks through the multi-zonal display of Atul Dodiya's latest exhibition at the NGMA, titled Experiments with Truth: Atul Dodiya, Works 1981-2013, the first thing that comes to mind is Gerhard Richter's refusal of the artist's obligation to maintain a single coherent style. The viewer is confronted with a variety of forms and mediums, the diversity of which aims to capture the divergent nature of change. It is Dodiya's inclination towards Gandhian philosophy that runs as a connecting thread through them. Gandhi permeates the exhibition not only as a figure, but also through his own musings and struggles with what constitutes the 'truth'.

In this light, a section titled Painted Photographs/ Paintings Photographed, comprising a series of diptychs, pairing a painting and a photograph becomes a fascinating experiment in contrast and comparison. For instance, an image of Gandhi drinking tea, pitted against Picasso's Head of a Woman is a curious deployment, bringing out a distinct division of the Mahatma's public and private persona. Picasso's sketch of an amorphous double-faced countenance points towards this duplicity of self-images, supplemented by an image of Gandhi mired in domestic informality. Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending on Schwarcz, alongside an image of Gandhi stepping down from a train somehow conflates the painting's implication of an ageless, sexless, non-individualistic entity along the persona of Gandhi who, for the world, was just the Mahatma, his self somewhere masked by his public reception.

The exhibition, spread across twelve conceptual and thematic zones, is more or less chronologically arranged, and allows multiple entry points in terms of thematic association of viewership. The thematic divisions are aligned with the artist's engagement with his early mentor figures such as Bhupen Khakhar, post World War II European cinema, the domain of poetry, and the vision of his father as a representative figure of migration from the hinterland into the city. Curated by Ranjit Hoskote, the exhibition parallels the rise of the Gandhian movement, and the artistic avant garde in Europe and America, during the first decade of the 20th century. The works on display include oils-on-canvas, watercolours, shutter installations, sculpture and cabinet assemblages.

Dodiya's work with popular culture productions such as posters, graffiti, and lithographs captured a nuanced understanding of mass production and the effect it has on popular art. The cinematic productions of Bergman, Tarkovsky, Antonioni, Ghatak and Ray also occupy a significant section of the artist's musing on the popular and the artistic.

It is almost an impulse to develop a pluralistic understanding of how art functions, not only as a mode of self-expression, but also as a significant contributor towards the shaping of the public domain. the various reference points that Dodiya picks up from Indian masters like Abanindranath Tagore, Akbar Padamsee, Benodbehari Mukherjee, and Rabindranath Tagore. Dodiya's works actively engage with the historical, in an attempt to understand the complexity of the Indian reality, its struggle, on one hand, with an ever burgeoning liberalised economy, and a deep sense of preservation of all that is essentially local, on the other.

Venue: NGMA

Date: 29th December

Timing:10 am – 5 pm

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