By Life Positive October 2002 Atul Dodiya is one of the finest artists to emerge in modern times. His works have been exhibited all over the world, including Madrid and New York. Collections of his works are with the Anand Bazar Patrika Group, The Times of India group, RPG Enterprises and Gallery Chemould. In 1999, Dodiya exhibited a series of exquisite watercolours on Mahatma Gandhi which met with tremendous critical approbation. In terms of both subject matter and medium, the series represented a shift for the largely apolitical Dodiya. Here he describes how the series evolved: As a young boy whose family came from Saurashtra, Gandhi was an intimate part of my boyhood. EXPRESSIONS OF EXISTENCE While in school, I read his autobiography in the original Gujarati and was awed by his passion for truth and nonviolence, his clarity and his patriotism. I used to draw Gandhi quite often as a kid. Every two years, I create an image of Gandhi. So you could say that Gandhi is a recurring theme for me. The series evolved because during the celebration of our 50th year of Independence, I was asked to create a commemorative piece. For me one of the most significant and disturbing images of the 50 years was the breaking of the Babri Masjid and the subsequent riots and bomb blasts in Bombay, where 22 boys from Ghatkopar had died. I called my piece Lamentation. It was a large painting divided into two parts. The first showed an image of Gandhi with his back to us, walking along a railway station with his hand on a young boy’s shoulder. I juxtaposed it with a Picasso painting with a little girl with wild Kali-like eyes. All around were lamenting angels, in the manner of Giotto’s painting lamenting the death of Christ. What I was trying to say was that with Gandhi gone, little girls like my own daughter had no option but to become avenging goddesses like Kali. After that I began to study Gandhi, particularly his pictorial images, and I began to reflect on his lean body with visible ribs. It revealed his struggle to win us independence. For whom was he fasting? For another human being, for humanity itself. I had heard from my father about the tremendous fire and idealism that had seized the nation during the Independence struggle. And today, there is not a single politician we can look up to or have faith in. Also Gandhi’s simplicity and austerity was so much in contrast with the consumerist lifestyles of today. There are images of Gandhi everywhere. Every second street is named after him, his face is on stamps, on currency, in government offices, but his spirit is nowhere. MOMENT OF DECISION As I reflected on him I began to realise that Gandhi had much in common with a new art technique called conceptual art. The structure of his ashram, his simplicity, his Salt March, non-cooperation, were all great conceptual ideas. Indeed in one painting, I showed him with a well- known conceptual artist Frederick Boyce. Boyce came to New York from Germany, entered an ambulance and came to the gallery where he settled himself for the next four days. He himself was the exhibit. After four days he left for Germany in the same manner. He had not talked to anyone, had no contact with the city. This to me was an act of non-cooperation! This is how my series on Gandhi evolved-as an artist of nonviolence, as he himself once described himself. I also decided to change my medium from the heavier paint and acrylic to the more delicate and ephemeral watercolour. Most were reproductions of photographs but I added my own touches. The series changed my life. My concerns shifted to the social arena. My latest series is a pretty dark reflection of contemporary India. Today, I feel Gandhi is more relevant than ever before. Events like the Gujarat riots bring home the lessons of nonviolence and tolerance to us graphically. Gandhi is eternally relevant.
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