Coming to Grips with Gandhi

Coming to Grips with Gandhi

Atul Dodiya’s Seven Minutes of Blackmail at Mumbai’s Chemould Prescott Road from January 16th to February 21st was a way of re-imagining a fragment of a Hitchcock film. It came on the heels of The Fragrance of a Paper Rose from October 27th to December 29th at Galerie Templon, Paris. 

 At his studio in Ghatkopar, Dodiya talks to Abhay Sardesai about his relationship with the Father of the Nation – the claims he makes on the Mahatma and the demands the Mahatma makes on him.

Atul Dodiya. Distant Thunder. Oil on canvas

Atul Dodiya. Distant Thunder. Oil on canvas. 60” x 82.6”. 1990. Photograph by Prakash Rao. All images courtesy the artist and Chemould Prescott Road.

Abhay Sardesai: When it was announced that the Indian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale was being mounted with Mahatma Gandhi at its centre, the first artist that came to my mind was you. From a self-portrait at the Sabarmati Ashram in Distant Thunder in 1990 to An Artist of Non-Violence in 1999 to the blackboard paintings featuring a conversation between the young Bako and the Mahatma in 2011, you have obsessively explored the idea of Gandhi – his presence as an epoch-making everyman and the conscience of our times. In fact, your 2015 show at Galerie Templon in Brussels was titled Mahatma and the Masters. 

 Parts of the huge Gandhi hoarding by the Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra at Churchgate station fell off recently, killing a pedestrian. This is a little portentous, isn’t it, coming at a time when statues of leaders are being installed to stir nationalist pride?

Atul Dodiya: Gandhi is such a huge part of our lives. The death of the pedestrian was really quite unfortunate. Churchgate station reminds me of one of my earliest paintings during the final year at the JJ School of Art. I remember buying almost 4000 Gandhi stamps from the General Post Office at VT station and painting over and covering them with white distemper. I remember  showing this work at the Monsoon Show organized by the Jehangir Art Gallery in 1981.