Bharti Kher was born in England in the 1960’s and received a B. A. Fine Arts-Painting from Newcastle Polytechnic in 1991. In 1993 she moved to India and currently lives in New Delhi. Bharti Kher’s exhibition Matter is her first major exhibition in North America. The exhibition is very varied featuring sculptures, painting and photography. The Vancouver Art Gallery blurb on Kher talks about her ‘iconic bindi paintings’ and even after looking at her works I still hadn’t a clue what ‘bindi’ was. So I turned to Wikipedia for a quick reference.
Bindi is the small red dot that Hindu and Jain women wear on their foreheads. It is considered the point at which creation begins and is also likened to the third eye. The bindi is a motif that Kher uses throughout her work.
The sculpture below consists of a sturdy display cabinet especially built for historical anthropological displays which is counterbalanced by the expressive bindis and wax markings below the surface of the glass. The shattered glass of the display cabinet represents a break with tradition. There were four such installations, each with differing contents, but dazzlingly beautiful.
Much of Kher’s work explores spirituality and the role of femininity in society. I found her photography very unsettling. There were a series of images in which she was addressing identity where she had combined the forms of woman and animal. Personally while I found the photographs interesting technique-wise, I found them rather grotesque and disturbing. Take the image below: a female form holding a tray of cupcakes strategically positioned in front of her breasts (reminds me of the Calendar Girls movie). The face half human half animal (either a pig’s snout or a dog/wolf’s nose), one human leg, the other an elegant horse’s front leg. Kher’s interpretation is below the photograph, but I’m still having trouble with it. Perhaps over the course of time I may change my opinion, but for now I’m sticking with my original reaction – disturbing.
The Hybrids were amorphous creatures who were part woman, part animal—you don’t know which is more animal or more woman—multi-dimensional, multi-faceted: she is the goddess, the housewife, the mother, the whore, the mistress, the lover, the sister… everything. She is at one state extremely powerful but kind of fragile in some imperfect way. It was very clear that the background of the works was an inside space; this is a domestic space and so within their own realm they were: all seeing, all knowing, all speaking, all powerful and yet not.
Bharti Kher (2013)
Of all her work on display, I least liked her photography. Her sculptures were well crafted and thought provoking.
The sculptures of the Six Women above are plaster casts made of six sex trade workers in Kolkata. Appartently Kolkata is home to India’s largest brothel based industries. The women represent the aging female body as a counterpoint to the “forever 21” scenario which plays out in society today. I found this installation quite moving. The women are probably all outcasts from their own communities, forced to take up sex-trade work in order to survive. So sad!
The installation below speaks to me of servitude, about the way women are treated in some cultures – no more than a chattel. The removal of the head, which has turned into a skull (signifying decay) and the substitution of branches in place of the head could speak to way women are ignored (relegated to blend into the background). The top of the skull is covered with bindi sperm dots, perhaps signifying the cycle of life.
A conversation with Bharti Kher [online] MOMMY by Susan Silas and Chrysanne Stathacos. Available at: http://www.mommybysilasandstathacos.com/2013/11/01/a-conversation-with-bharti-kher/ [Accessed 23 July, 2016]
Bindi (decoration) [online] Available at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bindi_(decoration) [Accessed 23 July, 2016]