For the last four years, Anju Dodiya has been using mattresses as metaphors. If that sounds intriguing, drop in at the ongoing show of her works ‘Throne of Forest’ at the Bodhi Art Gallery in Mumbai.
Designed for the Durbar Hall at Vadodara, the 30 works were described by critics and connoisseurs as a spectacle. How else would you describe embroidered mattresses in bright colours affixed with paintings? “I have always enjoyed medieval European tapestry and different kinds of textiles,” says Dodiya.
The paintings are done in Dodiya’s customary strong linear style using charcoal, watercolour and wash. It is a painstaking process of drawing with charcoal, applying watercolour and finally giving the work a wash by dipping it in water. The process is sometimes repeated. The effect is of a tremulous, subtle palette counterbalanced by vigorous, assertive, sometimes sinuous lines.
The central figure in most of Dodiya’s images is a woman. In using the female figure, she introduces references to history, texts and iconic images from the past. The female body in her art is imbued with metaphors of eroticism, passivity and heroism. In the current series, she has used a number of regal emblems and symbols. Dodiya says: “These are metaphors of power and control.”
Her teasing engagement with fabric and other material began some four years ago. She was commissioned to do a painting for the Hotel Grand Hyatt on the theme of Shiva Parvati. Dodiya chose for her image the wedding of Shiva. And because it was related to a nuptial, she chose a mattress on which to paint. The mattress became a metaphor of languor, ease and intimacy.
Says curator and art historian Gayatri Sinha, “It is wonderful to see how she brings the private into the public space.” Sinha selected one of her earliest mattress paintings for a show she curated called ‘After 2003’. Dodiya gets her mattresses specially made, of a desired thinness.
Exploring the possibilities of different materials is just one aspect of her art. More importantly, she is prominent among her generation of artists who are subverting the supremacy of canvas as material.
For some artists, such explorations may just be a way to beat the boredom of repeated use of conventional material. But for an intense and focused artist like Dodiya, it could also be part of the process of democratizing art practices. Nevertheless, it certainly has a lot to do with the innumerable reference points that she introduces in her paintings. The female body, for instance, is used to express a host of experiences. She brings not only her own, but that of others, under scrutiny.
Dodiya’s images are not easy-to-read pictures representing a world of reality. Nevertheless, connoisseurs are impressed. A work on imperial size paper has registered as much as Rs30 lakh at the auctions. Clearly, the paper chase will extend to embroidered mattresses as well.Throne of Frost, will show till 31 May, 11 am to 7.30 pm, Bodhi Art Gallery, Mumbai. Ella Datta writes on art. Her books include Ganesh Pyne: His Life and Times and A Walk in the Woods: The Art of Paramjit Singh