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Fragments of memory in B.V. Doshi’s recent works

The Pritzker Award-winning architect captures moments of reflection from the pandemic-induced lockdown in his drawings, paintings and sculptures

Detail from Balkrishna Doshi's 'Remnants of Memories', mixed media on canvas (2020). Courtesy: the artist and Vadehra Art Gallery

The ideas of time and memory continue to inform architect B.V Doshi’s work. His grandfather’s ancestral home, early impressions of textiles, old staircases — all of these emerge in his works in the form of colours and forms. And now one can see eleven such recent works by the Pritzker Award-winner at the Bikaner House. The selection, titled ‘Remnants of Memory’, is part of a larger group show hosted by the Vadehra Art Gallery and features mixed media works, metal sculptures, drawings and a teakwood door as an installation. As one walks through the show, it’s almost like getting a glimpse of the workings of Doshi’s mind.

“Roshini Vadehra approached me in January, expressing a wish to do a show in March. He had worked a lot during the lockdown, revisiting and layering older artworks,” says Khushnu Panthaki-Hoof, Doshi’s granddaughter, and an architect-archivist, who has curated the works. Doshi’s collection of memories emerges in the form of collages—about places he visited, and episodes from life. His work then becomes an ensemble of intimate experiences that have touched him deeply.

"His paintings have been shown at National Gallery of Modern Art in 2014, at the Power Station of Art Museum in Shanghai in 2017, Wrightwood 659 in Chicago in 2020, and at the India Art Fair by Gallery White in 2019. However this particular series (Remnants of Memories) of mixed media paintings hasn’t been shown before," elaborates Hoof, "They have a sense of abstraction even though they are layered.” These are very different from his earlier miniature paintings, which were inspired by his humane approach to architecture and time spent with Le Corbusier. Those were influenced by some of the significant architectural works and projects that Doshi worked on, placing streetscapes, people and nature at the heart of them to tell stories of coexistence of modernity and tradition. “In these new works, you can see fragments from various periods in time—the past, present and the future,” says Hoof. “Just like for everyone else, the lockdown for him too was a period of great reflection. One could find him going through his old diaries, reading, writing, drawing. These works emerge from that state of mind.” There seems to have been a drastic shift in his style during the lockdown, with bolder use of colours.

There seems to have been a drastic shift in B.V. Doshi's style during the lockdown, with bolder use of colours. Courtesy: the artist and Vadehra Art Gallery
There seems to have been a drastic shift in B.V. Doshi's style during the lockdown, with bolder use of colours. Courtesy: the artist and Vadehra Art Gallery

‘Remnants of Memory’ is an interesting choice of title for the show—one that also incorporates the role that ruins have played in his life. According to Hoof, it stems from the fact that ruins tell an incomplete story and hence talk to everyone differently. This is reflected in the fact that his buildings continue to evolve and breathe even years after being built. He calls them living organisms. “He thinks like an urbanist. I have observed his way of working closely. It’s almost like he is in a trance while drawing,” elaborates Hoof. “He loves working on master plans and thinks of movement through spaces. That’s how his sculptures have come about—with the idea of how to make drawings more dynamic. His play of light and shadow is evident in his paintings, drawings and sculptures.”

Each of Doshi’s works is imbued with a story, and the teakwood door on display is no different. It was originally designed for the home of Doshi’s friend, textile heir Gunvant Mangaldas, in Ahmedabad. “Gunvant Mangladas was very close to M.F. Husain and members of the Progressive Artist’ Group. There were a lot of works by S.H. Raza and F.S. Souza in his collection. While building the house, the door design edged towards art deco,” says Hoof. When the house was demolished recently, she and her team got it back and restored it. “It stands in this exhibition as an object of memories, and a signifier of the journey it has had,” she adds.

‘Remnants of Memory’ can be viewed at the Bikaner House, New Delhi, till 9 March, 2021

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