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Bharti Kher opens solo exhibition

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Indian artist Bharti Kher opens her first solo exhibition in London.

The artist, famous for both her intricate constellations of colourful bindi dots, and her way of playing with the idea of femininity, presents a selection of her paintings and life-size sculptural works.

The bindis found in Kher’s art are not the traditional red circular dots that many Asian women commonly use to decorate their forehead, but appear in multiple colours and are often shaped like sperm.

Associating this overt representation of femininity with such a pronounced masculine characteristic illustrates the kind of juxtaposition that Kher often brings to her work.

Warrior With Cloak and Shield (2008) is a striking sculpture depicting a mythical female creature prized with huge antlers.

It is neither woman or animal, but an amalgamation of two species.

Kher has been quoted as saying her work is about “the idea of the self as a multiple”.

Identifying that we usually play more than one role in our lives, she relates:

“In my studio I’m the artist. When I go home I’m someone else. When I go somewhere else, I’m somebody else again.”

A prominent sculpture in the exhibition, The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own (2006), is a fibreglass life-size elephant collapsed on the ground.

The piece was born out of Kher stumbling across a tiny newspaper photograph of a slumped elephant being loaded into a truck.

Finding an elephant to photograph in her home town of New Delhi would not have proved problematic. Shepherding it into her studio and fixing it in an obviously painful position, would have been.

So Kher instead used substitutes, namely cows. And with some specific centre of mass calculations, Kher guessed how an elephant would fall and moved the project on from there.

Kher did a good job. The ornate design and sequence of white bindis manage to describe the female animal’s skin texture flawlessly.

Aesthetically, the sculpture is spectacular. But conceptually, these sperm-shaped bindis cast confusion onto its meaning.

Are we simply watching the death of a majestic creature? Or does the choice of using swimming sperm-like bindis represent a reincarnation in metamorphosis?

Kher often parallels more individual and personal questions with larger sociological and political topics.

Journalist Jackie Wullschlager questions, does the elephant represent “Indian art overcome by the weight of colonial history” or “a power about to rise”?

Kher is no stranger to audiences misinterpreting her works, nor does she seek to explain the misunderstandings.

Born in 1969 to Indian parents, she was raised in London but moved back to India in 1991 when she was 23.

It was there she met her husband, artist Subodh Gupta, and settled in New Delhi to have two children.

Having been born and bred in the UK, returning to the country her parents emigrated from has allowed Kher to identify those sensitivities of belonging to more than one culture.

But Kher is eager to emphasise a more universal participation in the art, saying, “feelings of neither being from here or there don’t just apply to those who move from different countries”.

If you want to see an artist whose work is as atheistically exciting as it is conceptually meaningful, go and see Bharti Kher at The Parasol Unit (London).

The exhibition runs until 11 November 2012.

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