Identity, tradition, transformation, and belonging are the themes of the British-Indian artist Bharti Kher.
Bharti Kher’s works are first and foremost about identity and related issues of culture, tradition, gender and belonging. She juxtaposes contradictory signals of among other things the feminine, the animal, power, and ethnicity, and questions the familiar categories into which we divide our world in order to understand it.
The sculpture Arione from 2004 shows a shapely Amazon, dressed in hot pants, a gun holster and one high-heeled shoe, serving up delicate cakes. One of her legs has turned into a horse’s leg, while her face with its large ears recalls a monkey. She is no ordinary shapely woman. She is a hybrid, who is seductive as an Amazon, tempting with her cakes, and frightening with her alien, animal features and the revolver with which she is either protecting or threatening us. Bharti Kher is here liberating woman from stereotyped female roles and turning her into something new and as yet undefined. At a more general level, the transfor¬mation from something familiar into something still unknown reflects the great changes that India has been undergoing in recent years. At the same time, it reflects the artist’s own transnational identity.
Bharti Kher was born to Indian parents, grew up and was educated in England. At 23, she moved to New Delhi in India, where she lives and works today. She interweaves elements from her own upbring¬ing in England with symbols from Indian culture.
The bindi symbolizes the Third Eye. It has had a succession of secondary meanings throughout history, but today it primarily signals femininity and being Indian, and is also used as an interesting accessory in western countries.
The bindi was one of the symbols that Bharti Kher adopted when she arrived in India as a newly graduated artist. Today, we meet the bindi in the majority of her works: the sperm-cell-shaped bindis swarm around on her sculptures and make the surfaces vibrate. In her paintings, she perpetuates various traditions from the abstract painting of the West such as Op-Art and Abstract Expressionism. But instead of using paint, she creates patterns, colours, and movement in the pictures by pasting up thousands of bindis in different forms and colours on the canvas. With this significant element from Indian cultural history, Bharti Kher adds new meaning to the familiar and transcends the distinction between western and non-western art.
Multicultural identity is also a theme in the installation The Girl with the Hairy Lip said No from 2006. We see the remains of a tea party: shattered china, a teapot decorated with loose teeth, colourful bindis on the saucers, and cut-off locks of hair in the cups.
The scene is related to the English tradition of afternoon tea. At the same, time it refers to the Indian ritual in connection with arranged marriages, where the bride is inspected at a tea party. The humorous title tells us that, in this case, the woman has said no to the offer of marriage. The work combines signs and codes from different cultural communities and reflects on concepts like ritual and tradition.
ANNIE & OTTO JOHS. DETLEFS’ PHILANTHROPIC FOUNDATION