Death is an inevitability that needn’t cause despair. Anju Dodiya, one of India’s foremost contemporary artists, addressed the illnesses she saw in her family and the terror she read about, with her new collection of paintings that uses an unusual medium: medical illustrations from the 18th century. “Back then, these illustrations were about remarkable discoveries. But I look at them as objects of beauty because when you think about death, and cancel out fear, there is a certain beauty to the fact that in spite of our vulnerability, we have amazing dreams and desires,” begins Mumbai-based Dodiya, explaining how she decided to cut out prints of the illustrations and use them as a collage base. Juxtaposed with animals, flowers and instruments of trade—like her brushes—they are also fun “as, I think, it helps us cope with the drama of death, making it a little absurd,” she says.
Titled Imagined Immortals, the collection, currently on exhibit at Delhi’s Vadehra Art Gallery, comprises of collages and larger, more sombre watercolour and charcoal paintings. The 50-year-old admits she has incorporated different elements. “Visually, they are sharp and play with black a lot. I’ve used a pearl element that refers to 19th century nature morte Dutch paintings, the Japanese ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) technique, which incorporates violence and elegance in a way that moves me, and even Chinese plates with their nature motifs like peach blossoms (the title of one her paintings) that are metaphors for long life,” says the two-time Sotheby’s Prize-nominated artist.
Speaking about the ongoing Kochi Biennale and the India Art Fair in Delhi, Dodiya, who participated in the 2009 Venice Biennale, says the art scene is blooming now. “There is still an absense of museums and infrastructure, but we are on our way—there is an excitement about art now. When I visited the first edition of the Kochi Biennale, I saw local visitors coming in hordes. So if it keeps happening, every two years they will be exposed to the latest in contemporary art—educating them and making space for art in their lives,” she smiles.
Vadehra Art Gallery, till February 14. Details: vadehraart.com
—Surya Praphulla Kumar