Bharti Kher

BY CSMI STAFF WRITER

Bharti Kher was born in London, England, in 1969. She studied at Middlesex Polytechnic from 1987 to 1988, and then attended the Foundation Course in Art and Design at Newcastle Polytechnic from 1998 to 1991, receiving a BA Honours in Fine Art, Painting. She moved to India in 1993, where she lives and works today.

The stick-on, ready-made bindi – a traditional Indian forehead decoration – is central to Bharti Kher’s practice, and invites ambivalent meanings, oscillating between tradition and modernity. Kher thrives on creating art depicting misinterpretation, misconceptions, conflict, multiplicity, and contradiction, exploring human drama and contemporary life. The bindi appears in her paintings as well as in her sculptural installations, challenging the role of women in a traditional country, and referencing its traditional spiritual meaning of the ‘third eye’. (Derived from the Sanskrit word bindu – meaning point, drop, dot or small particle – and rooted in ritual and philosophical traditions, for British Readers, the bindi is a dot applied to the centre of the forehead.) Kher reclaims this way of seeing by creating intensely layered and lavish ‘paintings’ that are charged with the bindi’s conceptual and visual links to ideas such as repetition, the sacred and the ritual, appropriation, and a deliberate sign of the feminine. The bindi becomes a language or code we begin to read through works that elicit formal connections with traditions across Western and Indian art.

Her record-breaking The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own (2006) depicts a dead or dying fibreglass elephant covered in shiny bindisa sculpture that represents a life size female elephant made from fibreglass and adorned by numerous bindis. This sculpture combines two of the most common symbols of Indian tradition (bindi) and the Hindu religion (the elephant). This sculpture can be seen as the archetype of India. 

Her work further engages with allegorical tales, fantastical creatures, magical beasts, and mystical monsters, as seen in other animal-based pieces such as MisdemeanoursAn Absence of an Assignable Cause (2007) is a life-size replica of the heart of a blue whale, based on the artist’s imagination, emphasises the romantic idea of a ‘big heart’ and the mysteries that bind the heart to concepts of love, life, and death.