Noted attorney Raju sponsors the artist’s lectures.
By Phillip Thomas
PHILADELPHIA: One of India’s hottest modern and contemporary artists descended upon Philadelphia last week, finding a soft landing at a glamorous fete held in his honor at an historic downtown mansion.
The painter Atul Dodiya was in town from Mumbai to present a lecture on his work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Ajay Raju, a renowned Center City attorney and ascendant art patron, opened his opulent Pine Street residence to introduce Dodiya to a veritable who’s who of Philadelphia movers and shakers.
“When I first discovered Atul and his work, I was thunderstruck,” said Raju, who sponsored Dodiya’s engagement at the Museum of Art and plans to support a lecture series there. “Here was a painter whose work so elegantly and trenchantly traces India’s political and social history, but which also possesses a philosophical and aesthetic universality that somehow resonates powerfully even in the far-flung corners of the world. “Even,” continued Raju, “as far-flung as Eastern Pennsylvania.”
Raju is determined to develop a lasting two-way cultural and commercial conduit between Philadelphia, where he has lived for nearly 30 years, and India, his nation of origin and spiritual homeland. “I attribute whatever success I’ve had in my own life to being forged in this sort of crucible between two continents, between two cultures,” said Raju. “It has enhanced my understanding of the world, opened my mind and broadened my horizons. So why not try to create this effect on a larger scale? My hope is that by committing ourselves to a lasting exchange of ideas between these two disparate parts of the planet, we’ll enrich both of them.”
Darielle Mason, one of the guests in attendance, who also happens to be the curator of Indian and Himalayan Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, echoed Raju’s sentiments. “India is surging ahead on the world stage, and that’s imbuing the Sub-continent’s fine art with a remarkable vitality and energy. The works of Atul Dodiya and many of his contemporaries speak not only to their own experience but to that of a much broader audience, including here in a Philadelphia where we’re undergoing what I think is a renaissance of our own. That creates a lot more common ground than immediately meets the eye, and I’m grateful that people like Ajay are so enthusiastic to explore this new territory.”
Like Dodiya’s temporally transcendent oeuvre itself, Raju’s soiree conveyed an unmistakable East-meets-West air, with classicism and modernism mingling like spirits in a martini glass. As politicians and pashas of finance chatted over butlered canapés while doctors and designers sipped artisanal cocktails, the milieu at chez Raju -with its high frescoed ceilings, gilded molding and vast chambers named in accord with the hues of their heavy drapes (most of the action happened in the Blue Room and the Red Room) – evoked a swinging society night at a certain popular fictional English estate; Downton Abbey, if you will.
At Pine Street, where Raju’s ever-elegant wife Pamela moved gracefully and ingratiatingly among the guests, she paused to greet a pair of Philadelphia City Councilmembers, men whose days are occupied by the teapot tempests of municipal politics and provincial prerogatives. As the group exchanged pleasantries amidst the soft din of clattering hors d’oeuvres plates and ambient jazz, Mrs. Raju’s form cast a lithe shadow upon a large painting by Dodiya hung on the gold-papered wall behind her. The artwork, flanked by curtains of crimson crushed velvet in the Imperial style, depicted a subdued but striking image of an ageless figure in a boat, embarking on a journey from one land to another.