Atul Dodiya imagines a museum for the common man
The artist's latest exhibition is a museum within a museum
With his ongoing solo 7000 Museums: A Project For The Republic Of India at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad City Museum, master painter and maker of modern-day cabinets of curiosities Atul Dodiya is back in action. Part of the museum’s ongoing series Engaging Traditions (which sees participating artists engage with Mumbai through the museum and its history), the show attempts to reclaim the museum and thereby art history for the common man.
The show comprises of a large (and distinct) body of work that captures Dodiya’s praxis as a painter and installation artist. It features eight sculptural assemblages with poem panels (the famous cabinets), nine hyper-real photo-based oil paintings with minimal abstractions and 30 watercolours that cheekily propose museums for the common man. In her note, curator and honorary director of the museum Tasneem Zakaria Mehta writes, “The words evoke a layered dialogue… as they reference defining moments of history, art history, as well as the semantics of museums and museum displays.”
A lot of the show comes from Dodiya’s repeated research visits to the museum over the last two years, where he often noticed large tourist crowds engaging with the display. He began considering a museum visit in context to their day-to-day lives. It captured his imagination, and choosing to engage with the common man, Dodiya created cabinets stocked with a large body of references from India’s recent history. The cabinets include small sculptures based on forms found in existing displays, Arun Kolatkar’s wrenching poetry-tributes to the everyday Mumbaikar, as well as allusions to city’s Ambedkarite tradition with portraits, colour schemes (look for the indigo) and the poetry of outspoken Dalit activist Namdeo Dhasal.
The oil paintings are referenced from images taken during the Independence movement and are hyper-real studies of Gandhi and his followers, disturbed by abstract forms that come from Rabindranath Tagore’s paintings. The series attempts to combine the ideologies of the two stalwarts, and simultaneously refer to the infusion of abstract in Indian art.
Of his 30 watercolours, Dodiya says, “I’ve always enjoyed visiting museums but the one thing I noticed is that most people, while they will go to (something like) the Prince of Wales museum, and consume art that is hundreds of years old. But when it comes to modern and contemporary art, they are baffled. And once they leave the museum, they go back to their daily grind. I began wondering what if there were modern and contemporary museums, in small cities and towns like Ranchi, Alwar, Jumritalaiya and so on.” The result is indeed a tongue-in-cheek imagination of fantastical architecture that seems to be the norm for modern galleries and museums abroad, juxtaposed with the lowest common denominator; a sharp critique of the art industry and all the people it no longer caters to.
7000 Museums: A Project For The Republic Of India is on till February 15 at Dr Bhau Daji Lad City Museum, Mumbai. Bdlmuseum.org