Amrta Verma: You are an artist who looks at the intensity of the inner life of humans. What influences your inner mindscape?
Anju Dodiya: I examine through my work the emotional theatre within all of us. The works are about all of us… inner conflicts… my mind, your mind.
AV: I had the opportunity to view your exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery. On first look it reminded me of strains of exhibits earlier. For example, the collages with references to medical illustrations seem to have the background of your previous exhibit ‘Aesthetic Bind: Subject of Death’. This show seems to recall that?
AD: In a sense, through the years mortality has been part of my work. Transcendence was the theme of ‘Throne of Frost’ at the Baroda Palace in the show that Geeta Kapur curated ‘… Subject of Death’. I constructed a lexicon of death – the fear, the body, the wound, etc. etc. This theme continues here.
AV: The works ‘Accordion of Uncertainty’ come from the show ‘Touched by Bhupen’. What made you want to put those two images here?
AD: Obviously, these works are inspired by old medical illustrations. The landscape of the body opens out here and reveals – not information, but uncertain presences. These large works connect with the collages. In my studio practice, I often go back and forth from large works on paper to smaller format drawings or as in this case, the collages.
AV: The title of the exhibition ‘Imagined Immortals’ - How did that come about and why the particular title?
AD: My work is not about the real world but it seeks to connect the reality around us with overlaps of the mind and create new structures of feeling. It is a poetic reality and in that sense entirely imagined.
Also my interest in literature and mythology brings in references of characters which are ‘immortal’.
‘Imagined Immortals’ for me is like a visual poem about our fragile human nature.
AV: In your works one sees this spiral-like form which seems to be connecting the viewer and the work as if to engage directly and envelop you.
AD: The spiral is a formal device which sometimes unspools the form/face. It may appear like a form reaching out to the viewer. Sometimes entrapping, sometimes enclosing.
AV: When we talk of your earlier work, in your dialogues with Nancy and Ranjit, you mention the connection of your works as being transcultural… this can be seen in the present show with Aphrodite etc…since you internalize your environs and you live in India it piques me to want to know why is there western contextualization within the works, though we have seen some Indian elements with Gandhari and Anarkali.. Your engagement with mythology… is there something important for you in the historicity of human kind and daily life?
AD: What I am interested in is stories, building a story, a character. Sometimes mythological characters provide a visual trigger and suggest to me narratives to paint. That’s how Gandhari, Anarkali, Daphne, Penelope etc. have appeared in my work. Their absurdities, peculiarities or tragedies are connected with visual signs which I incorporate into my work.
AV: We have references to Gandhari blindfolded…
AD: Gandhari of the Mahabharat blindfolded herself as an act of compassion and companionship for her blind husband. However, I think of it as an egotistical gesture. That’s why the mirror in her hand -a metaphor for her vanity. The war happened because of her misguided notions!
AV: You have spoken about the denial of sexuality or gender in your works .. how is that done in the present set of works or is it?
AD: If you look at the ‘Accordion of Uncertainty’, you see a man and woman totally nude. However, there is an obvious stress on the interior landscape of the bodies. There is a conversation between the two with the black accordion-like forms reaching outwards. It is not about their sexuality, but about their private mortal beings.
AV: In your show at Vadehra earlier there was a sense of throttling of the individual… an almost awkward bind which he/ she struggled with… I see the visual heaviness on the part of the body as the head… we know you work with figures to go internal.. is there a pattern of exploration?...The work ‘ Stillness in Blue’ suggests it..
AD: I am extremely interested in the human head. I often use props like hats or spiral projections – almost like antennae that function like extensions of the emotional state within. The black solid forms which envelope or appendage these heads are adding weight to that expression. I am definitely trying to do that...
AV: I remember meeting you at your previous show in Delhi at Vadehra, titled ‘Necklace of Echoes’. The shows at Delhi seem to have a more subtle darker mode to them say in contrast to your show in Paris and Bombay… Is that conscious?
AD: I don't do projects, I work seamlessly. What is showed depends on the time of my life, my state of mind, the space of the venue etc. Some things are conscious, some intuitive.
AV: In your Paris exhibition you use inspiration from the energy of the works of Utagawa Kuniyoshi… one can see it. The veiled criticism of the political class… how does one read it in your works and is that an element of your inner mindscape.
AD: I was interested in the Samurai and the energy of their gestures that Kuniyoshi captured. The artist in the studio is like a Samurai. Painting is a ritualistic practice with its rigour and valour! Perhaps, in our times to continue painting, is a political act!
AV: You mention colour carrying emotional resonances which excite you the most in 2007. We saw that in your 2010 exhibit as well. In the present exhibit we see works devoid of colour…the cloth works… ‘Unbolt’, ‘Wind Wane’ is there a movement..?
AD: Colour is not absent. They are drawings, so the medium demands a certain tonality. That’s all.
AV: Where do you see the future direction of your works?
AD: I want to explore drawing more and push it on fabric.
AV: Thank you Anju for such an insightful and engaging conversation! I look forward to knowing more as we see your works progress to new narratives and dimensions. It was a pleasure speaking with you once again!
AD: Thank you.