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Dhruvi Acharya is a Bombay based artist whose work straddles both Indian and American popular culture in innovative ways with a twist of humor. She creates catchy images that convey the often-contradictory life of the modern urban Indian woman, privileged, but with underlying discord from the social and environmental constraints around her. Acharya earned an MFA in painting at the esteemed Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and worked in New York for ten years, and her work continues to be exhibited widely in America at institutions such as the Queens Museum, and the San Jose Museum of Art.

Acharya’s paintings stem from her drawing practice, which she describes as a sort of daily journal where she sensitively chronicles her thoughts, emotions, and experiences, which often relate to her concern for the environment and for women’s rights. Mixing motifs from Indian miniature painting, comic books, and even street art, the artist hopes to achieve a universality of human experience in her images. One such example is the darkly humorous work ‘Barren’ from 2010. Here, the artist created a collage using charcoal and synthetic polymer on canvas to create a crowded cityscape where the only reproduction happening is with the growing number of buildings. Women sit with blank thoughts and the only green or trees come from a figment of a confused woman’s imagination.

Acharya cleverly reveals the dangers of unchecked development by appropriating advertising schemes in her work. In her 2008, 14 foot long, 22 panel futuristic painting ‘Air Fair,’ even air is for sale since humans and their commercial developments rendered all land barren. Despite the desolate environmental and sociological situation in these paintings, the words from the advertisements such as “Gasp” “Buy Breath” and “Air Fair” still create a consumerist sense of excitement. The situation that Acharya created in this, and several other works, calls to mind the current situation of Bombay’s development, where open space is disappearing, and billboards promoting further development projects excite consumers to think about owning palaces in the sky. The mix between the possible and the impossible in Acharya’s apocalyptic scenes allows her to speak truth through fiction and arouse new thoughts about what consequences may follow the city’s dreams of development.

Text is another important part of Acharya’s work, and she brilliantly plays text and image against each other to tell riveting stories with energy and imagination. The motif of an empty speech bubble is common in Acharya’s works, and she often lets the figures visually tell her story and allows viewers to fill in the blanks. In a series called ‘Sink’ and ‘Float’ from 2007, mutated women sink and float on a sea of onomatopoeic sounds of violence, expressed through words such as “Pow,” “Crash,” etc. The figures appear numb and oblivious to the destruction around them, blacking out the background noise as many do in noisy Bombay.

In a powerful series from 2008 called ‘Words’, however, Acharya inverted this relationship between figure and speech bubble, obscuring the figure and highlighting the speech. Viewers can understand the story by reading the text, and on closer examination, these texts are actually renditions of folk tales where women are obscured and suppressed. This subtle finesse is one of the ways that Acharya is able drive home powerful messages that are woven into the humor of her works.

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