12 Feb Black Dogs – Bharti Kher Profile Piece
Bharti Kher has become one of the leading female protagonists of a new generation of artists holding their own in India today. Having broken onto the international art scene with her work The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own 2006, that comprises of a life size fibreglass elephant recoiling on the floor, covered from head to toe in silver bindi’s; Kher has since established herself as one of a handful of artists at the cusp of the contemporary art scene. Shifting from the UK to New Delhi in the early nineties, Kher had to assimilate to her surroundings, while still managing to retain her own independence. And like so many of her early works that are born of a plethora of discarded materials; the elephant was influenced by a faded photograph of a collapsed elephant being manhandled and manoeuvred into an awaiting truck. The tragic imposition upon this allying mammal was perceived by Kher to be “an artwork in the making”. And as a work of immense beauty it proved to be a sensation among the international art collective. Impulsively acquired by philanthropist and collector Frank Cohen for his Wolverhampton collection, which is included in a Manchester City Art Gallery show in 2010, aptly entitled Looking East in which Cohen opened up a very small part of his collection to the public.
Bharti Kher was also included in Saatchi Gallery’s Empire Strikes Back exhibition, 2010. A survey show of contemporary Indian art, which included The Nemesis of Nations 2008, which is a work that has become as synonymous with Kher’s practice, as the vinyl floor works are regarded as British artist Jim Lambie signature style. Multi-layered and multi-coloured, these circles of felt are concentrated onto gallery walls and canvas as many as possible. For Kher their cultural significance is central to her art practice. A reoccurring motif, likened to the wheel rooted to the centre of the Indian flag, the bindi is at the centre of all social and cultural identity in India, and a sign of the marital woman and her place in society. Kher explains “The bindi has become many things now after using it for so long, a marker of time. It functions as both a material that transforms the surface of a work like text or codes and reinvents the clarity of a ritual that signifies that you open your eye and see. The visual aesthetic is really not something I can ignore and yes it’s one of my signatures.” For that reason Kher’s repeated bindis, the distorted layering and over-layering of the original form, disorientates and destabilises the motif, one among many. Corrupting the essential beauty of the bindi with this work, Kher goes some way to suggest symbolism is constantly subject to social change and she positively challenges the role of the woman in a continent stifled by tradition.