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Artist Profile2
Understanding Anita Dube’s aesthetic language and artistic concerns
Anita Dube has evolved an aesthetic language, which incorporates everyday objects derived from vernacular, craft and commercial sources. The artist even employs everyday materials, images, and objects in such a manner that (the combined) meanings resonate far beyond perceived local and prosaic associations. Her figurative works appear to the naked eye as fragmentary or broken deformities; they coalesce into proper human figures only when they are reflected in a conical manner.

Initially trained as an art historian and critic, her amazing oeuvre brings together experiences of mortality, desire, pain and pleasure – all rolled in one. Employing a variety of found objects drawn from a wide array of domains and sources like the industrial (foam, plastic, wire), the somatic (dentures, bones), craft (threads, beads, velvet, sequins, pearls), the ritual and the popular (ceramic eyes), she handles a divergent range of subjects to unveil and share her concerns.

Art writer and critic Philippe Vergne in an essay has described her work as having ‘developed an aesthetic language that privileges sculptural fragment as a cultural bearer of personal and social memories, history, mythologies and phenomenological experiences.’

The noted contemporary artist skillfully combines imagery and references to traditional Indian culture with contemporary concerns, negotiating the slippery terrains of identity – societal and individual. She has employed the enamel eyes found on Hindu idols for her sculptures and installations.

Explaining their rationale and context, the artist has elaborated in an interview with Peter Nagy: "I found that when you have a cluster of these eyes, they carry the energy and charge of crowds. The sense of being in crowded places even messy dirty places, an attraction to the violent energy present in these situations, which is either revolutionary or fascist, is the reason I continue to explore this material."

Born in the city of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, in 1958, she did her B.A. (honors) History at University of Delhi, 1975-79, and then completed M.A. in Art Criticism from the faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University of Baroda (1979-82). She was involved in the activities of the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association until 1989.

Her early experimentation as a sculptor was largely the result of her affinity with the association, which provided a sharp and abrasive critique and analysis of the Indian socio-political situation. At that time, her oeuvre was focused on exploring the human body, its tactility and its resilience.

Among her prominent solo exhibitions are ‘Inside Out’, Bombay Art Gallery, Mumbai (2007); ‘Phantoms of Liberty’, Gallerie Almine Rech, Paris (2007); ‘Illegal’, Nature Morte, New Delhi and Bose Pacia, New York (2005); ‘The Sleep of Reason’, Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai and Nature Morte, New Delhi (2003); ‘You tell me what you know down here, girl’, Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai (1999). She has been a founding member of the Khoj International Art Workshop.

Over the last decade or so, Anita Dube has created works that encapsulate a testing of existing perceptions. Through her work, she tackles fragmented realities - deftly or directly, as her theme demands. For instance, ‘Illegal’, a persuasive and compelling series by her, was a direct engagement with the received image, in this case, the print and television imprint of the prolonged Iraq war, of scenes of loss and degradation and a numbing sense of ubiquitous fear.

If one looks at her sculptural pieces as markers to trace the trajectory of her aesthetic impulses, it indicates the manner in which the artist has shifted from the immaculate, velvet-clad pieces such as ‘Silence Blood Wedding’ (1998) or ‘Oedipus Rex’, to a new set of materials, new skins and overlays that carry within them their own contradictions and hidden symbolism.

Her oeuvre always comes with a twist and does not fail to shake the viewer. Her recent video is a testimony to her artistic methodology. It begins with a benign a monologue but culminates in a lament about fascism and religious fundamentalism. When the credits roll, they reveal that the bearded man is the artist herself in drag. Equally powerful was her suite of eight sculptural compositions at Bose Pacia, NY. While each body of work had a distinct voice within the space, they together, provided an intelligent and thoughtful investigation of the aesthetics of the inside/ outside dynamic. Each work, visually distinct, eloquently contributed to the conceptual gestalt of embodying the space between personal and social labor as well as consciousness.

Through her unique aesthetic language, Anita Dube continues to address a concern for both autobiographical and societal loss as well as regeneration.