Anju Dodiya on art, empathy and her latest exhibition, The Air Is A Mill Of Hooks
In her 17th solo show, titled ‘The Air is a Mill of Hooks’, Anju Dodiya examines the space within which Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Mystic’ — that gives the exhibition its name — was born | #FirstCulture
Few contemporary artists in India have the kind of reputation that Anju Dodiya does, given she has a solo exhibition running parallel to the India Art Fair. Fewer still, are as reclusive and self-aware. For those aware of her previous works, the idea of the self is almost a given. Dodiya has been known to explore the idea of pain, the very nature and forms of it. Compared to her artist husband Atul Dodiya, she is in a way, more concerned with the human form. In her 17th solo show, titled ‘The Air is a Mill of Hooks’, Dodiya steps outside the body and examines the space within which Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Mystic’ — that gives the exhibition its name — was born.
In her latest series, Dodiya returns to using the mattress, as a kind of cushiony and bloated medium that carries with it an irony of sorts. Bikaner House, where the show is being held, seems an appropriate site for the kind of unconscious blend of paranoia and copious amounts of fear that is embedded in her work — homely, but not without its weight of history and heritage. Dodiya, who graduated from the JJ School of Art in 1986 and held her first solo in 1991 is already a bit of an old horse in the Indian art space, a name that regularly garners not only attention, but attractive prices at auctions. Has it changed the way she approaches a new show? “The anxiety remains the same. Each time is a new space and a new challenge. Experience means that I trust myself to resolve ' the problem'. But the problem continues to have the same sharp intensity,” she says.
It is a matter of perception, what that problem is. The woman that appears in Dodiya’s work can appear to embody recent history (a history that encompasses #MeToo). She appears restricted by domesticity, and at times by the very burden of having to break free from it... in a way, recreating the visceral and at times nightmarish poetry of Sylvia Plath, who after her suicide and confessional poems became an icon for the feminist movement. Of her tragically obvious vitality, Dodiya is a follower. “She is a master craftswoman of pain. The title conveys the abrasive nature of my images... the assault of the world,” Dodiya says.
Dodiya has explored the bedroom before and the choice of the mattress as a medium carries with it a darkly synonymised metaphor to the place of the woman, whosoever she is. She may be an artist, or the art itself, but there are roles she is slated to play and condemned to contemplate, but never question. “I [try to] speak about the emotional atmosphere, as well as the global situation. Constant unrest,” she says. Ever since the Harvey Weinstein moment, the art world — deviously distant from the measuring scales of morality — has seen unprecedented churn. The bedroom has spoken, and women, artists themselves, have shed the tambour and highlighted the scars. “About the movement this year, I say like so many others: 'about time'. It is a bit aggressive, but sometimes the history of the casual approach to the problem demands an aggressive stand,” Dodiya adds.
A distilled reading of 'The Air is Mill of Hooks' suggests that Dodiya has been in fact deeply affected by the year gone by. Not only is the woman in her work in a constant state of anxiety, the very process of art and the position of the artist is questioned. In The Reader, Dodiya’s protagonist reads a book under a chair that has been showered with arrows, while in Ignition she chews a possibly banished work, all within in the uniformity of a domestic life. These contrast with others where in the presence of the ‘man of the house’ the woman’s role changes completely. There is a duality to many of her tropes, a humdinger of interpretation. Nobody could know where Dodiya is headed with all this, which is profoundly accurate of the state of today.
The struggle to interact with art, let alone create it, is gargantuan these days. Sometimes a book seems like a daunting journey in itself. Does Dodiya suffer from similar fears of creating? “I am consumed by the fears of creativity. They are nothing compared to the real world of Syria and earth quakes and war... so the mattress metaphor,” she says. But Dodiya is acutely aware of difference in tonality of each of those fears. “I speak about fear from a cushioned reality. It is empathy. Perhaps not experience,” she adds. Her empathetic, latest show is a meditation on the politics of the bedroom, and the way its secret journeys un-spool beyond the latched door of secrecy. It is as dark and mystic as its palette is spare. But in her empathetic home-view, Dodiya’s channels a kind of resistance, in the lap of bondage and fear — or Plath says at the end of 'Mystic': "The Heart has not stopped".
The Air is a Mill of Hooks on show at Bikaner House till 17 February 2018
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