Published in Imagined Immortals, Anju Dodiya, Vadehra Art Gallery, January 12- February 14, 2015.
Vasari says, Francesco one day set himself
To take his own portrait, looking at himself from that purpose
In a convex mirror, such as is used by barbers…
He accordingly caused a ball of wood to be made
By a turner, and having divided it in half and
Brought it to the size of the mirror he set himself
With great art to copy all that he saw in the glass
Chiefly his reflection, of which the portrait
Is the reflection once removed.
The glass chose to reflect only what he saw
Which was enough for his purpose: his image
Glazed, embalmed, projected of a 180 degree angle.
(Self Portrait In A Comex Mirror: John Ashberry)
Anju Dodiya has long been the subject of her own art. If one seeks to characterise the work in the lineage of the self-portrait, then the very nature of (self) representation would need to be expanded.
From the late middle ages in Europe - a period from which Dodiya draws inspiration, the woman artist has painted herself in a variety of attitudes. Artemisia Gentileschi, her sleeve seemingly, unconsciously pulled back in the act of the labour, of making Self Portrait as the
Allegory of Painting, 1638, would be her natural forebear. Centuries later, Frida Kahlo, of the damaged body with its disquisitions on pain would open up the possibility of a psychic corporeality, of the body as a bearer of multiple signs. Kahlo in her mirror image of the self
would also signal another area of efflorescence for Dodiya that allows for an expansion in this essay, of the mirror as both a psychoanalytic and an artistic instrument. For in Dodiya, the mirror seems to become interchangeable with the frame, and allows for narratives to spill and rush and palpate, freeing the self and its image to flow and mutate.
Unarguably, Anju Dodiya's painting is about the self or a fictionalised self-portrait. Equally it is about splitting, splicing and enacting the self. On a few occasions Dodiya has lent her exhibitions a performative mode, as we witnessed with her massive installation, Throne of Frost,
in the Durbar Hall of the Lukshmi Villas Palace, Baroda, 2007. Within the baroque interior, highly embellished with a Venetian mosaic floor, and Belgian stained glass windows, Dodiya installed a series of double-sided paintings, some encased on mattress-like mounts, to create an extraordinary effect. As one walked around the vast circumference of the installation, the face of one set of free-standing painted images was visible. However, the other face of the installation was tantalisingly evoked in a mound of mirror shards, placed like a mosaic on the floor. As one dodged around for a view, fractured narratives, spliced and cut forms floated up occasionally to meet the gaze, in a cascade of asymmetries.
How then do we read this projection of the self and its multiple enactments?
In the present exhibition, there are only three paintings which continue in the vein that Dodiya has established over the last two decades. The rest are a series of collage works to which we may come later. These paintings are performative in the manner that one has come to expect
of Dodiya. In one of her most enduring associations there is the inspiration of Ukiyo-e, a medieval Japanese art form that carries at its core abandonment and the erotic, often clothed in the language of the grand gesture. One may look upon the present work as belonging to the
same intent of the gesture with the grand flourish that is both assertive and redemptive. At its core is the artist or her shadow, looking out of the canvas, locked in a triangulation of the gaze between the artist, her shadow, and the viewer. To the spectator, such as myself, the process of
Dodiya's engagement with her actors, the moment at which she decides to enter the narrative, the confrontation or enactment, its related symbols as suggested by the other ‘props’ in the proscenium/frame, and its final affect, or the emotive response, all are self-reflective. In other words, I would like to suggest that they turn the gaze back to the source: from the intense theatre of the work, the viewer's gaze now turns to the artist herself.
Dodiya has often spoken of the "stress” of art; the act of confronting the canvas, of committing to the stroke and thereafter the entire dramatic unfolding of the narrative that she may engage with. "The pain of painting is in the concept, the process is joy," she says. "Earlier I have said that painting is like a martial art, you have to prepare, it is a matter of life and death.” This act and its many variants have led to the imaging of the act of painting. Dodiya creates the white virgin canvas as it appears to rest on the easel, awaiting a mark or a trace, Paper unfurls.
coils and waits, like a mocking glance. The artist performs the tricks of a conjurer when confronted with curators in her studio, evoking the creative process as fraught, even precarious. Yet it is precisely at this moment of realisation that we are looking in a fictive mirror image of the artist in her studio, that the shadow can storm in and create an entire dramatic act of resistance, protest, confrontation or compliance.
It is in this area of the seen and the unseen in Dodiya, that her work appears at its most engaging. In his elaboration of the unconscious, Carl Jung has spoken of the “shadow" as the seat of repression, signifying both conflict and creativity. Jung speaks of the shadow as a form that can be visualised, that shares the same gender and is at the crux of the individual's personality. He is quoted thus, "If it has been believed hitherto that the human shadow was the source of all evil, it can now be ascertained on closer investigation that the unconscious man, that is, his shadow, does not consist only of morally reprehensible tendencies, but also displays a number of good qualities, such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc."
(Diamond, pg. 96). Further he adds, "Without the conscious inclusion of the shadow in daily life there cannot be a positive relationship to other people, or to the creative sources in the soul..." (Diamond, pg. 109).
Dodiya may work from a standpoint far removed from Jungian psychoanalysis, but she has painted the theatre of the conflict of ideas with an obsessive intent. If we are to characterise her painted subject as a shadow then one may argue for the shadow as protagonist. In a sumptuous, even baroque cascade of roles-Leda, Daphne, Penelope, Gandhari, Joan of Arc-her shadow figure has assumed a presence that performs under a tense discharge of the gaze, between the artist, the viewer and of the actors intheframe.The effect is one of not
differentiating between the self and the shadow, albeit a disobedient shadow that abandons the cue of the principal protagonist, the artist, to assure its own dance of self-expression. The performativity of this act and its split is understood by a two, three or four way staging between
the artist herself, a palpable being outside her canvas and her cast of (shadow) characters as they perform on the canvas.
Through Dodiya's oeuvre, the artist and the self in its many performative associations play out or enact conflict, or a heightened emotional realisation, often without resolution. In her paintings the moment of a climatic appears to drive the emotive response-of artist and viewer- to a pitch. The image there may be deeply suggestive of an inflicted, petrified violence. Instruments of torture or constriction (Daphne, 2004; The Site, 2005) are examples. The skin as a surface for erasure-which was also translated into a physical, performative act in the exhibition
Room for Erasures -is also marked for wiping out, constricting, stamping, burning, fixing and impaling.
The shadow, as we see it, also draws from Dodiya's manifold sources in art history that spans both time and geographies. In reading her one cannot be unaware that there is much that crowds and jostles for attention, emerging as a slew of enactments. Time is scalable through a series of conversations across time. Here one cannot perhaps underestimate the extent of her engagement with Kuniyoshi, of the Utagawa school and Utamaro, 18h century Japanese painter and printmaker of the Ukiye-o whose primary subjects were women and the play of shadow. In Utamaro's Shadows on the Shoji (1790s) or Courtesan Kneeling by a Paper Door with Shadow Dancers (1806-1815), the shade of the dancers, the printed paper door and the pattern on the courtesan's kimono all make an agitated, graded movement that would be close to the essence of Dodiya. In Utamaro the adjustment of light, the filters of transparency, create a palpable, if evanescent, desire. The shadow marks the body: it is predictive of what Dodiya speaks of as the stain; it also is the body that can loom and menace. Dodiya enhances the sense of the
shadow by allowing it to grow and swell like a dark cloud heavy with rain. Creating the effect of a proscenium, it frames the figure allowing it to emerge from the dark to create its own Ukiye-o or 'floating world'. Like Utamaro's women, who glance sidelong into the mirror, the play of
the dual, the partial or the split image has been refined and taken further.
What are we to make then of the somewhat more contained painted figures of the present exhibition? Despite their Samurai-like gestures, do they allow for the absorption or the positive integration of the shadow, a kind of stasis perhaps but also an emotional resolution? Jung suggests that the logical way forward in the recognition of the shadow-and its
troubling aspects-is its successful integration. In the multiple selves that she sets up through her painting-who return the gaze to the artist or sometimes stare back at each other in visible conflict-the whole aspect of self-portrayal is complicated by the interplay of mirror images.
But what if the shadow in the mirror with its sharp edge of irony refuses to integrate? What if rage and desire remain outside the self, free to argue, pirouette and perform? The artist can always work from a position of incompleteness and the blank canvas will cause its greatest torment in the yearning for the other. Painting then becomes an act of gazing at one's spectacular, narcissistic twin, even as the artist/self remains outside the frame, contained, and not implicated... until she takes up the brushes again.
But let us for a moment expand the scope of the mirror. If the artist and her shadow are the principal performers, what else does it include in its expansive sweep? Anju Dodiya's preoccupation with the self-albeit a removed performative self-is also a commitment to the female body. "If our culture does not provide representations, or provides images which
are understood as misrepresentations or inadequate representations, then there will be a response.* In a culture that swings towards exaggerated, intense glorification or degradation of the woman's body. Dodiya makes the mirrored image of herself/the shadow, of the l and the other, a world complete in itself. Together they are virtually oblivious to what she would be familiar with in the everyday, in the conflicted class and sexual images in her city of Mumbai. Instead, through her often playful and symbolic references to myth, we experience her very sensuous engagements with costume and dress, the fall and sway of fabric. Culled from books on fashion and history. There is the exaggerated, even grand, gesture of the theatre proscenium, or the wide gesture of victory of the sports diva. In the way that the attitudes and gestures of fashion merge with the gestures of her women, Dodiya confers a heroic, ennobling
aspect. In this making, Dodiya has little interest in playing the seductress; equally there is little interest in the constructs around feminism. Rather it is in the articulation of a kind of selfhood and the subtle beauty of adornment, one that gently underscores the exaggerated attitudes and
postures. The image as it splits appears like a Lacanian mirror self that acts out and performs, moving fluidly between multiple selves.
To consider the principal body of work in this exhibition, the collage, it may be instructive to return to our primary enquiry around the self-portrait. In the taxonomy of the self-portrait, the critic Galina Vasilyeva-Shlyapina speaks of the kinds of self-portraits that artists engage with.
Thus there is the "insertable" self-portrait where the artist inserts his or her own image into a group, the “prestigious” self-portrait in which an artist can assume an historic identity, the "group portrait" where the artist is depicted with a real group such as a family and the "separate" self-portrait or the one where the artist is seen alone. Since the 15th century, the mirror has been used in the self-portrait to allow the artist the facility to create a mirror image with verisimilitude. Dodiya runs through the gamut of self-portraits in solitary, group or imaginary situations. However, the most intriguing aspect is the manner of "inserting" the shadow self-and here her context widens from the affective role of the performer to that of investigating material histories. Among all her peers, Dodiya, even as a painter, betrays a sensuous and curious sensitivity to materials.
In the present exhibition, Dodiya inserts the self within the dismantled pages of a found text, in this case a turn of the 20th century medical text. A young relative facing a terminal sickness led to her medical readings, seeking perhaps foranexplanation ina period of extreme distress. The
inference one may draw is that the place of the fictive or narrative scene that she allows for the play of the shadow self, now enters an existing space of the material-one that allows for insertion, mimicry and dialogue. Dodiya acknowledges here the inspiration of Rauschenberg, who already is acknowledged in her oeuvre in the use of erasure as a form. The anatomical drawings allow her to reimagine the body, to play, morphing or mutating into animal or plant forms. As if freed from the burden of the narrative and the baroque gesture that it must elicit, Dodiya here is at ease. "My early works were very exhaustive in detail, there was an earnestness; now I have embraced absurdity... This is a relief for me." 
Like her figures, these print forms are frozen in time. And despite the material stolidity that they embody, she uncovers the structure as a conceptual, even intuitive gesture. "In drawing, the stain happens first. Staining is the basic pleasure of being an artist. It's abstract and very
freeing ..." She adds. “A world is being created--it is fluid. What I usually demand is an energy which is about the visual, about how it affects the viewer. In that sense, the stain is not enough."
In this series Dodiya uses the affective quality of the 'found' object, with the insertive elements of collage. Collage suits her temperament and use of seemingly unrelated fragments. Dodiya reverses the impersonality of the printed image to introduce her own hand made images. At the
same time this method allows Dodiya to create a new and sharp edge to her oeuvre. Instead of focussing on emotional affect, she can choose the Surrealist's mode to challenge expectation, and scramble forms of nature. Dodiya asks the viewer to draw on memory, invoking abstraction
and constructivism, through art history. Collage which has thrived during periods of political crisis in the 20th century has served artists to project social and cultural concerns. Working her way through the text, Dodiya creates two parallel non-narratives, in which body organs, memory and recall play off associations.
The insertions that Dodiya makes in the prints are revealing, as if through a process of free association; we see how the anatomical renderings of the body can assume a pattern of many histories. She sees these as “a simplicity worth exploring, a minimal quietude. I want to draw. to
dispense with colour." Thus the ears and the winding cochlear tunnel are seen in conjunction with a spiralling, abstract form reminiscent of the markings on a tree trunk. Muscle and sinew from the legs merge in knitted wool, and resemble skeins of yarn: the drapes of clothing swell
and become Hokusai's Wave. The veins of the body appear to branch out like a leafy bush. Through such play, Dodiya or her shadow can appear austere like a judge, spare or ascetic, her
Gaze transfixed in an examination of near or distant perspectives. There is wit and freedom
and pleasure in these collages. They remind us, that every once in a while Anju Dodiya allows herself the pleasure of a diversion, and the consequence is a shift in her practice, both startling and rewarding.
New Delhi, May. 2015.
1. Ashbery, John. Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror: Poems. Penguin Books, 1975.
2. Anju Dodiva has pored through western art history, neatly sidestepping ecumenical
readings to allow sites and works, to course through her work in a free association of
ideas. Pre-Renaissance painters, specifically Giotto, Piero della Francesca, are among her
3. Imagined Immortals, Vadehra Art Gallery. 17 January 14 February, 2015.
4. From a conversation with the writer, January 2015. Mumbai.
5. Studio Guests. Anju Dodiya, 1998.
6. Diamond. Stephen A. Anger. Madness and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis
of Violence. Evil and Creativity. State University of New York Press, 1999.
8. 2012. Chemould Prescott Road.
9. Body, Sexuality, Image, Introduction pg. 540 from Feminism Art-Theory an anthology
1968-2000. ed. Hilary Robinson. Blackwell Publishers, Oxford. 2001.