Atul Dodiya

Meditation (with open eyes)

2011

In Tate Modern

Artist
Atul Dodiya born 1959
Medium
3 wooden, metal and glass cabinets displaying 17 framed works on paper, 24 blackboard dusters, television aerial, camera, figurines, religious icons, painted canvases, household items and other materials.
Dimensions
Overall display dimensions variable
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by Tate International Council and Tate Patrons 2014
Reference
T14078

Summary

Meditations (With Open Eyes) 2011 is an installation that comprises three wooden cabinets with glass fronts, with artworks and objects placed both inside and on top. In them the Indian artist Atul Dodiya has assembled an assortment of objects, much in the manner of traditional cabinets of curiosities found in historic collections and museums. The dense, slightly informal arrangement of the objects gives the work the appearance of a series of personal shrines, similar to the humble glass cabinets common in middle-class Indian homes which preserve souvenirs and items based on emotional rather than material value: photos, travel memorabilia, toys and gifts, religious icons and the like. The title of the work suggests conscious memory and the contemplation of objects that trigger recollections. The cabinets are arranged in a row, mounted on the wall, and the central one is slightly taller than the two flanking it on either side. Dodiya had previously worked with museological-style displays in works, referencing and paying tribute to the Indian nonviolent activist and nationalist icon Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi (1869–1948) and fellow artist Bhupen Khakhar (1934–2003). An early example was Broken Branches 2003, in which Dodiya was inspired by the dusty cases containing personal effects and memorabilia in the regional museum about Gandhi in the small town of Porbandar. The particular iteration of cabinets in Meditations (With Open Eyes) is more autobiographical and relates closely to Dodiya’s own art practice.

The cabinets contain seemingly unrelated objects ranging from the sacred to the everyday. Within them are displayed works of art – copies of works by other artists as well as the Dodiya’s own productions – interspersed with photographs, objects and ephemera. Texts by a Bengali poet and quotes from American artist Jasper Johns (born 1930) and twentieth-century French author Andre Gide are included, acknowledging Dodiya’s admiration for their work. Homages to the early modern abstract artist Piet Mondrian (1872–1944) are included in the first and last cabinets, echoed in the pattern of a small quilted textile in the middle cabinet. When Dodiya visited Tate Modern in London in 2001 on the occasion of the exhibition Century City (Tate Modern, February–April 2001) in which he participated, he saw works by Mondrian in Tate’s collection. He was struck by the visible cracks on the surface of Mondrian’s paintings, which would not have been apparent in printed reproductions. This was around the same time that a major earthquake shook his native Gujarat. Struck by the correspondence between the cracked Gujarati landscape and the surface of Mondrian’s paintings, Dodiya produced a body of large paintings titled Cracks in Mondrian 2004–5.

The objects in the vitrines in Meditations (With Open Eyes) include several incarnations of the Hindu deity Shiva, as well as found and made sculptures. The male figure with skulls balanced on his head in the first vitrine, for instance, relates to a painting by Dodiya, Doctor from Mozambique 2007. More ubiquitous objects relate to the process of making art, namely a stack of blackboard erasers and an old found camera. In the third cabinet Dodiya has included a faux-Victorian ceramic of three young boys in formal attire, a reference to the innocence and naiveté of his own youth, when he decided at the age of eleven to become an artist. Dodiya describes himself as still having the natural curiosity of a student in his approach to seeing works of art:

I feel strongly about art from the past, and treasure the sheer joy of seeing art of diverse kinds. I like everything. Old Masters, abstractionists, drawings, installation, manuscripts, tapestries, maps, Johns, Grunewald. When I look at art, whether it is Donald Judd or Joseph Beuys, I ask: Where does this come from? How is this done? How to resolve such images visually, practically? I think I still have a student’s approach.
(Quoted in Sinha 2010, p.129.)

Meditations (With Open Eyes) thus presents an assemblage that has personal significance for the artist, of the heroes and influences particularly relevant to his work, forming a personal archive and homage. Arranged on top of the cabinets are photographs and images of Dodiya’s personal artistic and cultural icons – artists Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), Louise Bourgeois (1911–2010), Joseph Beuys (1921–1986), Philip Guston (1913–1980) and Rabrindranath Tagore (1861–1941) are joined by a scene from a Bollywood film starring Amitabh Bachhan and Rajesh Khanna, the angry young men of their generation in India. The work was first shown alongside a series of blackboard works based on a fictional conversation with Gandhi by a young boy in his dream, based on the writings of Gujarati poet Labshanker Thaker. Gandhi first appeared in Dodiya’s work in a series of watercolours based on historic photographs titled An Artist of Non Violence 1999, exhibited in an exhibition of the same title at Galley Chemould in Mumbai, in which Dodiya attempted to re-examine Gandhi’s legacy in the wake of public riots. Apart from the pervasive presence of Gandhi as a hero for the first post-independence generation in India, it is worth noting that both he and Dodiya originated from the same part of Gujarat.

Further reading
Gayatri Sinha, Voices of Change, Marg, India 2010, pp.114–29.
Bako Exists, Imagine, exhibition catalogue, Gallery Chemould, Mumbai 2011.

Nada Raza
April 2013

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