He grew up in a family of blacksmiths in Gujarat’s Bhavnagar area. His childhood was spent on the ship-breaking yards in the region, amid heaps and piles of metal scraps. The chaos of these yards, from the dismantling of the water-borne vehicles to the selling of metal scrap, and the scrap being transformed into objects of utility such as furniture in the neighbouring warehouses, became a quintessential part of his growing up years. Now, not surprisingly, they are defining the artistic sensibility of Abhishek Dodiya, one of India’s millennial sculptors.
“All the objects I use in my installations are taken from local scrap dealers in my hometown Bhavnagar, which I then work on to create my piece of art,” reveals the 38-year-old artist. Dodiya’s primary medium is metal and his subject is the varied landscape of Bhavnagar that has transformed topographically and demographically over the years. He says a lot of his practice is influenced by leading contemporary artists such as Subodh Gupta and LN Tallur.
Dodiya’s latest work, titled ‘The Colony’, is currently on display as part of Art Incept gallery’s ongoing exhibition, World Within, World Without, at Bikaner House in Delhi. To make the 5ft x 5ft circular work that occupies half a wall at the exhibition precinct, Dodiya has welded a medley of scrap material together—broken sheets of asbestos, cut-up pieces of cubical pipes, iron meshes and more—to recreate the slum clusters that make the skyline of his native town. The entire work is done in a shade of rust, typical of metal corrosion, a hue that is also imbibed by the soil in the region over time.
“I come from a family of blacksmiths. My father and uncles have all been in this profession for years. So, I have seen people work with iron all my life, and I am also familiar with the work... I know how to weld. My aim with this work was to represent life in the region using the material from there in a sensitive way. This is my idea of home,” he explains.
At first glance, ‘The Colony’ looks like an aerial view of a city or town, as it would appear from an aeroplane, moments before it hits the runway. The hutments are huddled together along the diameter of the work. The cut-up pieces of cubical pipes aligned horizontally take shape of the ship containers on the dock. The habitation is surrounded by water, done with rusty, copper- and brown-hued iron mesh sheets with tints of the all-too-familiar reflective kerosene blue. The water, like the slum clusters,
“This is a kind of landscape depicting the space around a scrapyard. Because the scrap lies around for really long periods of time, the soil and the water too tend to take on the same colour as the metal over time, and since a lot of water has dried up, you can notice patches of land in the sea,” Dodiya explains.
The work also has two additional rectangular fragments, titled, ‘Salt Farmers’, placed on either side, representative of the landscape across the salt fields in the region. These fragments are significantly less dense than the central piece. The houses are spaced out in order to leave vast areas for salt production.
He used a metal panel, usually used as part of a bed while making furniture, as the base for the work, and then planted the tiny hutments across the surface. “This is the view that you would get if you were passing through the area from a highway. Because a lot of salt production happens in the region, large areas of land remain empty and the residence clusters are in patches,” Dodiya says.
The artist did not, however, start his journey in art with sculptures. One of his earliest inspirations in the field was his maternal uncle, who was a painter. It was from him that Dodiya got his early tutelage in painting, but soon discovered that he had an affinity for sculptures, and went on to study at the College of Fine Arts, Ahmedabad, followed by a postgraduate diploma at MSU, Baroda.
“I always knew that I wouldn’t continue in the family profession. My uncle inspired me to paint when
I was a child and I knew, quite early on, that I wanted to be an artist. But as I grew older, I realised that I wanted to work in other mediums as well, which is how I started working with metal,” he says.
Part of the current crop of emerging artists, Dodiya’s ‘Cyclone’ series was the centre of attention at Art Incept’s booth at the India Art Fair in Delhi earlier this year; he recreated the cyclone-struck settlements in coastal Gujarat using the same process of breaking down and then building up pieces of metal. His 10-foot tall installation, titled ‘The Spring of Construction’, is currently on display at the Plaksha University campus in Mohali.
While Dodiya is not big on planning far into the future, he is certain about the focal point of his practice. “All I know is that I am interested in the contemporary interpretations of urbanisation and architectural heritage, and would like to continue to centre my work around it,” he reveals. By making metal yield to his will, Dodiya is giving abandonment the gift of rebirth in other forms.