Born in Bombay, India on January 20, 1959, to a family that had migrated to the west-coast metropolis from Kathiawar in Gujarat, Atul Dodiya is one of India’s most acclaimed postcolonial artist who refuses to confine himself to a box neatly labeled with a national identity; his location in India serves him as a base from which to intervene in a variety of cultural and political histories to which the postcolonial self is an heir.
Dodiya’s paintings, assemblages, and sculpture-installations embody a passionate, sophisticated response to the sense of crisis he feels, as an artist and as a citizen, in a transitional society damaged by the continuing asymmetries of capital yet enthused by the transformative energies of globalization. When Dodiya was ten, he suffered an injury to the eye while playing with friends in a century-old village-like neighborhood of DK Wadi in Bombay. That same year, he felt in his bones the absolute conviction that he wanted to be an artist. For the next twenty-five years, he would be plagued by the artist’s worst nightmare: the fear of impending blindness. Regardless of this, he embraced the life of the studio, committing himself to the edge of severe visual impairment, a condition eventually and permanently remedied by surgery. But by the mid-1990s, Dodiya’s voracious desire to record a diverse range of experiences by painterly means had already made him a front-runner of his generation of post-colonial Indian artists. A number of paintings that date to this early phase of his career attest to this potentially destabilizing yet dynamically productive tension in his consciousness. Like many of his contemporaries, Dodiya enacted a radical departure from the modernist dogmas of stylistic singularity and medium-specificity; he replaced these with a dazzling and extravagant multiplicity of styles and a repertoire of media among which he ranges with the zest and adroitness of an orchestral imagination. In February 2002, a brazenly ascendant Hindu Right-wing would orchestrate a genocide against the Muslim minority in the state of Gujarat, plunging Gujaratis of liberal persuasions, such as Dodiya, into profound dejection. As one who had long subscribed to Gandhi’s philosophy of compassion, mutuality, and non-violence, Dodiya was especially disturbed by these events that cataclysmically bookend the decade 1992-2002 of his life which came to inform his art strongly.