A 6-foot-tall, bare-chested woman with a horse’s hoof and a defiant glare, bearing a tray of pink cupcakes. A massive tree whose fleshy fruit, on closer inspection, proves to be hundreds of tiny heads. Another bare-chested woman, clutching her bat-winged baby while a vacuum cleaner with a German Shepherd’s head and torso sits at her feet.
Surreal, often shocking, Bharti Kher’s art may not be for everyone. But as one critic says, “It is difficult walking away… without having a strong reaction. She commands it.” Indeed.
The London-born, New Delhi-based sculptor/painter/photographer broke onto the British art scene in 2006 with “The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own”, a lifesize fiberglass elephant, awkwardly and heartbreakingly sprawled on the floor, seemingly dying, and covered in silver bindis. It was immediately purchased by the collector Frank Cohen. Since then Kher has become a favorite of several major collectors, including Charles Saatchi, and is currently represented by top galleries in New York, London, Paris, and Delhi.Bharti Kher’s The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own (2006)
She is also married to renowned artist Subodh Gupta, but that almost seems beside the point. On her own merits, Kher is considered to be one of the leading figures of the new generation of contemporary Indian artists, and her work is commanding the sums to prove it. On June 28, “The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own” will be up for sale at British auction house Sotheby’s, for an estimated £1 million.
But Kher is perhaps best-known for her bindi paintings: colorful, mesmerizing abstractions composed of layers upon layers of store-bought bindis – the dots that are traditionally worn by married women in India, even more traditionally symbolic of the 3rd eye linking the spiritual and material worlds, and now being appropriated by the young and trendy as a fashion statement.
Referencing multiple meanings at once, challenging our definitions of ourselves and the cultures we live in, is a constant theme in Kher’s work. Her move to India as an adult, at 23, may have something to do with this; she is perpetually both insider and outsider. “Coming from abroad you always notice things that people who live there might not,” she says. “You see differently.”
One look at Bharti Kher’s work below and we think you’ll see differently too.
Intrigued? Here’s more on Bharti Kher from Paris
Current and upcoming solo exhibitions:
“Hauser & Wirth Outdoor Sculpture: Bharti Kher,” St. James’s Church, London, from March 20, 2010
“Tokyo Art Meeting: Transformations,” Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Oct 29, 2010 – Jan 30, 2011
Current and upcoming group shows:
“Indian Highway,” HEART Herning Museum of Contemporary Art, Herning, Denmark, March 13 – June 13, 2010
“Susan Hefuna – Bharta Kher – Fred Tomaselli: Between the Worlds,” Kunstmuseum Thun, Thun, Switzerland, May 1 – June 27, 2010
“Signs of Life: Ancient Knowledge in Contemporary Art,” Kunstmuseum Lucerne, Lucerne, Switzerland, August 14 – November 21, 2010
Story by Republic of Brown contributor Laura Silverman