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 Bharti Kher  (1969 - )

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Lived/Active: India/England      Known for: magical beasts, monsters and allegory sculpture, painting, installation

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

As ancient symbol of beauty, marital status and spiritual awareness, millions of women across the Indian subcontinent apply the bindi to their foreheads every day. Multi-media conceptual artist Bharti Kher says she began applying bindis to much of her recent work following a revelation in 1995, when she encountered a woman wearing a serpent-shaped bindi on her forehead. Since then, she has appropriated and redeployed the bindi as powerful signifier, a means of transfiguring and recontextualizing the dreamy and beastly images and objects that populate her dense, swirling sculptures, paintings and installations. Overlaid upon objects big and small, sacred and divine, they invoke a sense of migratory flow, building and dissipating in complex and cosmic rhythms. Kher’s work often barters in the grotesque: Sometimes the grotesquerie is obvious, even violent; others, it is merely a vague sensation, a subtle, but troubling distortion of the real. As Ranjit Hoskote describes it in the introduction to her 2007 monograph, “[Kher] presents her works as an ongoing phantasmagoria, its fictions delivered through a vivid and hallucinatory realism that is unsettlingly attentive to detail.” In 2012, her sculpture of a life-sized, female elephant covered in sperm-shaped bindi, The Skin Speaks a Language Not its Own (2006), was dubbed by Financial Times art critic, Jackie Wullschlager, as the only “iconic” piece of art to emerge from a spate of major 21st Century Indian art surveys. Along with fellow Indian artist, Rina Banerjee, Art + Auction named Kher one of the world’s “50 Next Most Collectible Artists” in June, 2012. Kher was born and raised in London, where her she grew up playing among the rich, colorful tapestries of her parents’ sari shop. She moved to New Delhi in 1993 after studying at Middlesex Polytechnic, in London, then studying fine art and painting in the Foundation Course in Art & Design at Newcastle Polytechnic. She still lives and works in New Delhi, and is widely recognized today as one of India’s boldest, most important contemporary artists.
Christie's, Mumbai

Biography from Saatchi Gallery:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

In part inspired by artists such as Hieronymus Bosch, Francisco Goya and William Blake, Bharti Kher references magical beasts, mythical monsters and allegorical tales in which they might feature in her work. The blue sperm whale is one of the world’s largest animals. Unable to find sufficient scientific documentation about its anatomy, Kher invented the appearance of the whale’s heart for An Absence of Assignable Cause. Created in fibreglass, the enormous heart and protruding veins and arteries are decorated by the artist with different coloured bindis.

Relocating to New Delhi after studying art in Newcastle, England, Bharti Kher is an artist committed to exploring cultural misunderstandings and social codes through her art practice. Likening herself to the well intentioned ethnographer investigating her culture, Kher delivers a very forceful reinterpretation of modern India. In Hungry dogs Eat Dirty Pudding, a domestic hoover is covered in garish animal skins. These are the kind of inventive hybrid creations that Bharti Kher has made her own. Evoking the early work of Swiss artist Méret Oppenheim who covered a teacup, saucer and spoon with fur, Kher’s sculptural works appear incredibly surreal in their construction.

Highly regarded for her sculptural works, Kher has also produced paintings and installations that challenge cultural and social taboos in India. Untitled is composed of multi-layered and multi-coloured bindis. These numerous circles of coloured felt are concentrated on painted board. A reoccurring motif in her work, like the wheel rooted to the centre of the Indian flag, the bindi is at the centre of social and cultural identity and can be seen as a sign of the marital woman and her place in society. The bindi also traditionally represents a third eye, linking the spiritual and material world. In recent times, it has been reformed as a fashion accessory, available in different colours and shapes. With this work, the artist is signalling a need for social change and challenging the role of the women entrenched in tradition, whilst also commenting on the commoditisation of the bindi as a fashion accessory.


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