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‘Face-off’ by Anju Dodiya, her first ever show in France
Paris based Galerie Daniel Templon hosts the first ever show of works in France by Anju Dodiya, one of India’s most renowned contemporary artists. ‘Face-off’ (after Kuniyoshi) is a series in watercolor and charcoal on paper.

This new set of large works on paper refers to the prints with images of samurais that Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), an artist of the Ukiyo-e School. Ukiyo-e (meaning Pictures of the Floating World) was a school of popular art which depicted, in paintings, woodblock prints and books, life in urban Japan from the 17th to the 19th Century. The prints have been frequently acknowledged as a prime source of imagery for Anju Dodiya, who finds inspiration in a rather wide range of things, including cinema, and popular culture (from comics to advertising).

The artist is also influenced by Persian and Indian miniatures, European tapestries from the Middle Ages, Renaissance Art, Classical Chinese and Japanese Painting, and different modern and contemporary artists, such as Antonin Artaud, Robert Rauschenberg and Francesco Clemente. Rather than creating pastiches with images and ideas from all these sources, she uses them, as well as stories from different literary and mythological narratives, and, of course, her own fantasies, to explore issues of identity and self-examination.

Anju Dodiya’s work is rooted in Oriental traditions, using images as a vehicle of storytelling. Figures tend to appear in isolation or besides a few props. Ground is only indicated by the weight implied in the exaggerated folds of the voluminous garments worn by the characters, and also by possible distortions of perspective. Figures are depicted in exaggerated movements and their balance is unstable, being always in motion. They are also very expressive, suggesting a diverse range of feelings. When they wear masks, her characters underline ideas of role playing, narrative and intention beyond aesthetic accomplishment.

The world of imagination or ideas is clearly more important than that of verisimilitude and observation. In the group of her new works at Galerie Daniel Templon, the image of the artist working in the studio as a samurai – we see her painting, sometimes split in two characters, while adopting dynamic martial art postures. This is a good metaphor to convey the life of the artist as someone dedicated to sacrifice, discipline, pain, tradition or service, like that of the Japanese warriors. Anju Dodiya, whose body often appears also tormented in her work, has already represented herself as a samurai in ‘Holding the Mountain’ (1996).

The artist’s new images have a humorous or cartoonish tinge. Here we see her fighting with a canvas, ostensibly to make it work. A painted portrait in Paper Storm has a plug in her mouth as if it could not speak or communicate –an image taken from an untitled photograph by Maurizio Cattelan from 2000. In ‘Face-off’, continuing her own drawings of the series ‘Walled City’ (2008) - the image in the painted canvas within the painting, has something like shackles or a noose around her neck as if captive to its possible failure as art. In ‘Quarrel Duet’ we see an image, hidden or tormented by a red mask while fighting back, from the canvas, with some kind of cloth in each of her hands. In ‘Eclipse’, the painter is energetically fighting to erase the blackness covering most of the painting she is working on. In ‘Entangled’, several cords emanate from the head of the samurai/artist as if she is about to be strangled and consequently defeated by her own mistaken actions or decisions.

In her statement accompanying the show, Anju Dodiya notes that artists disappear once their work of art is finished, and that the work then remains solely as an anonymous, creative expression. It is not casual then that several of the figures in these new works are hidden underneath geometrical reddish masks, implying that their finished work may be a way of getting rid of them. In ‘Surge’, it seems that one of the painted images is getting out of the canvas- becoming real, taking the form of a bizarre spotted octopus, with tentacles resembling claws or thorns, and two large and comical eyes.

This monster may defeat the artist who is only fighting with a brush. Sometimes we see two figures at work – or at war! They do stand for the inner demons of the artist battling it out to overcome one another. The artist reveals they refer to duplications of the self. The new images seem also to explode, flashing from blackness, being partially surrounded by black areas on the edges – ‘charcoal clouds’, in the artist’s words, suggesting that the act of creation is one extreme situation. The black surroundings also help to provide a certain dream-like quality.

While portraying herself, Anju Dodiya depicts issues like vulnerability, eroticism, violence, self-exploration, dreams and extreme situations in general. These new works do not really mark a radical departure from previous work, besides the humor and irony already highlighted. They suggest something that traverses the personal. The fact that the artist may be defeated refers ironically to the scenario that today, and for quite a while now, many other artists are employing conceptual and technological means, influenced by years of dominance of art criticism and theory, which insists that painting is no longer relevant.