In Woman and Men, Dhruvi Acharya’s canvas is divided into two.

To the left, stands a woman with a gun strapped to her back, standing against the words: “Your husband died, but you are still living. It’s not your fault. Raise good, strong children. Go out and meet people. Maybe you’ll find a companion…”

On the right, she is faced by three men. Each carries a gun in one hand, and a flower in the other. The words behind them read: “Your husband died so you might as well die. Sati abolished? Then be a living sati. You are bad luck. Shave your head. Don’t go out. Stay alone in your room.”

'Woman and Men'. Credit: Dhruvi Acharya (Courtesy Chemould Prescott Road)

In 2010, Acharya lost two of the men closest to her. Acharya lost her father, and soon after that, her film-maker husband Manish Acharya, passed away in an accident. This is her first solo show in India in 8 years (her last solo show was in 2010 in New York).

“The painting is about the radically different experiences a woman in India who loses her husband to death can have,” said Acharya, a resident of Mumbai. “I was cocooned by my loving family and friends who helped me heal and made me realise life is still beautiful. I am financially independent, and inherited my husband’s assets. While, the other experience is the opposite, where women are often blamed for their spouse’s death, turned out from their homes, often not given their financial dues, hated even, and depending on their circumstances, they have to learn to live, earn and raise children on their own.”

Acharya's forthcoming show, After The Fall, which will open at Mumbai’s Chemould Prescott Road gallery on October 13, grapples with the idea of what happens to the mind, body and soul when one experiences something that is "unfathomable, irreversible and unpredictable".

Acharya has made all the works included in the show in the last three to four years.

“Working was a big part of the healing process,” she said. "It reflects my journey through loss, grief, understanding death and learning to live and love life again."

'All Creatures Great and Small'. Credit: Dhruvi Acharya (Courtesy Chemould Prescott Road)

Acharya’s works are usually conceived in the rough pages of her sketchbook-journal.

“It’s as if intangible things on my mind just appear on paper,” she said, describing her process. “I draw my emotions, my thoughts, my observations, experiences and things I may read or hear about. The paintings then take a life of its own – the painting dictates what it needs, and its meaning evolves and changes.”

Acharya's work trapezes with grace between the real and the imaginary. Human features morph to convey inward mental states, thought bubbles loom large, almost ready to pop, over the heads of her characters, but remain empty. Thoughts that cannot be put into words.

“Through shape, size and colour, thought bubbles express emotions and feelings rather than a specific thought,” she said.

Another recurring motif in Acharya’s work are flowers with teeth – reminiscent of flytraps, they are vivid, gorgeous, ready to devour and consume. Acharya says these are symbolic of the harsh but well-meaning words, thoughts and ideas which always return to "bite" you when you least expect it.

'Afloat'. Credit: Dhruvi Acharya (Courtesy Chemould Prescott Road)
'Thoughts I'. Credit: Dhruvi Acharya (Courtesy Chemould Prescott Road)

Acharya's dark humour is everywhere, but it is only the gloss on what is in fact a deeply surrealist work. "When you feel something deeply, and accept it, you begin to see the humour, even if it is very dark...or at least the irony, in almost every situation."

'Thoughts and Words'. Credit: Dhruvi Acharya (Courtesy Chemould Prescott Road)
'Recollections'. Credit: Dhruvi Acharya (Courtesy Chemould Prescott Road)

After the Fall will be exhibited at Chemould Prescott Road in Mumbai from October 14 to November 19.