Contemporary Art...Bharti Kher
20 June 2013
A lifesize elephant adorned with thousands of bindis...This sculpture, called The Skin Speaks A Language Not Its Own, took Bharti Kher, one of India’s best-known contemporary artists, 10 months to make and is one of three variations. It can be seen as a metaphor for India itself: is it slumped, exhausted, under the weight of its history ‑ or rising, renewed, ready to become a powerhouse once again?
Sotheby's deputy director of contemporary art, James Sevier, called it an "exquisite" piece that was an "icon" of contemporary Indian art. He said: "It is India's identity in all its glorious complexities that is the hero of this masterpiece and the sculpture remains a beacon of India's avant-garde scene at the beginning of the 21st century."His colleague Zara Porter-Hill, director of Sotheby's Indian art department, said: "Despite our familiarity with elephants, nothing prepares the viewer for the emotional experience of seeing Kher's elephant, huge and incongruous in the gallery space. With her head resting on the front foot, she is brought down to our level and her glassy black eye entreats a communion and proximity rarely encountered in the wild."
Bindis - In 1995 Kher was struck by a woman in a market wearing a ‘sperm’ bindi on her forehead. She asked the woman where it came from and went straight to the store. ‘I walked in and said, “give me all the serpent bindis you have,” which turned out to be a few packages that she stuck in her sketchbook. It turned out to be a supernova moment.’
Since then, Bindis have become Kher’s signature, operating not so much as a central motif but as a language that the artist has invented to articulate and animate her themes. Bindis swarm over sculptures endowing them with a cryptic second skin. They are deployed in vivid chromatic constellations to form ‘paintings’ whose abstract patterns relate to the history of western art whilst seeming biological and essential — resembling cellular life viewed under a microscope or the intercourse of oceans and continents viewed from a satellite. Each dot or sperm-like squiggle can be understood as a person, their arrangement en masse mapping demographic movement, the migrations and miscegenation of teeming populaces. At a private viewing of the exhibition at Parasol, Kher touched upon the concept again, suggesting that India with a population of 1.2 billion brings a natural focus onto the theme of movement en masse. Kher is perhaps best known for her elaborate and stunning bindi dot paintings: abstract, swirling constellations of colourful bindis glued to flat surfaces that create unique imagery somewhere between being illusory and hyper-realistic.