Bharti Kher (born 1969) is an Indian contemporary artist. Her work encompasses painting, sculpture and installation, often incorporating bindis, the popular forehead decoration worn by women in India, in her work.
Bharti Kher was born in England. She studied painting, graduating in 1991 from Newcastle Polytechnic. At 23, she moved to New Delhi in India, where she lives and works today. She is married to Indian Contemporary Artist Subodh Gupta.
Kher's works are heterogeneous. Her work is engaged with the readymade, minimalism and abstraction (through repetition), mythology and narrativity.
Overarching themes are the notion of the self as a multiple and culture's openness to misinterpretation. She exploits the drama inherent in objects, tapping into mythologies and the numerous diverse associations a thing can bring. Kher has said "I look everywhere and copy everyone – I am like a magpie that takes what it needs and turns an old shiny button into a beacon. Most of us are products of our lives."
"The bindis play with the visual aesthetic and conceptual ideas that I have been pushing for many years now: the bindi as an object of ritual (the sacred now turned secular), of conceptual clarity (as the third eye) and brazen habit. It becomes a leitmotif that connects disparate ideas and things and now functions like a skin that marks a surface. The application of the bindi represents an unbroken ritual practiced daily by millions of Indian women and has been described by anthropologist Marcel Mauss as “techniques of the body,” which, like other physical disciplines such as consumption and eating, are repetitive and periodic. I take it all and run with the possibility of making image and idea look beautiful and the bindis make the works feel strangely human."' (Bharti Kher, 2012)
In 1995 Kher was struck by a woman in a market wearing a 'sperm' bindi on her forehead. She asked the woman where it came from and went straight to the store. 'I walked in and said, "give me all the serpent bindis you have," which turned out to be a few packages that she stuck in her sketchbook. It turned out to be a supernova moment.'
Since then, Bindis have become Kher’s signature, operating not so much as a central motif as a language that the artist has invented to articulate and animate her themes. Bindis swarm over sculptures endowing them with a cryptic second skin. They are deployed in vivid chromatic constellations to form 'paintings' whose abstract patterns relate to the history of western art whilst seeming biological and essential – resembling cellular life viewed under a microscope or the intercourse of oceans and continents viewed from a satellite. Each dot or sperm-like squiggle can be understood as a person, their arrangement en masse mapping demographic movement, the migrations and miscegenation of teeming populaces.
Kher created Symphony, an digital artwork about Bindi at 2012.
In sculptures and collages Kher has created hybrid beings that conjoin contradictions of gender, species, race and role. Sculptures such as 'Arione' (2004) and 'Arione's Sister' (2006) are part human, part animal; bare-breasted Amazons bearing cupcakes and shopping bags who each step forward with equanimity upon an equine leg culminating in a hoof.
These beings bear out Kher's interest 'in the idea of the monster, the hybrid, the contradicting identities.' They explore the multiple roles put upon and played out by women as well as the tendency to be perceived differently depending on who is doing the looking. Often the addition of clothing adds a blend of strength and vulnerability to her female figures.
Hybridity is not confined to the animal kingdom in Kher's work but mixes freely with the arboreal as well. Two sculptures of trees, 'Solarium Series' (2007) and 'The Waq Tree' (2009), bear hundreds of shrunken animal heads as fruit. These combine recognisable species with fantastical creations, their waxy, flesh-like material seeming disturbingly human.
Kher's works operate in a fabular realm, affecting a kind of Magic Realism. Strongly narrative, they tap into legends but equally create their own strange stories.
Works such as 'The Waq Tree' (2009) and the mirror series 'Indra's Net' (2010) refer to specific sagas, yet in crafting the ancient symbols as physical forms Kher engages in ritual, giving life anew to the legends.
'The Waq Tree'
The Waq Tree is a startling hybrid: part tree, part animal and wholly unnatural, it exerts a weird beauty, deriving power from its combination of grace and curiosity.
Kher’s sculpture simultaneously asks to be considered in two contradictory ways: as a mythological subject; and as an intricately crafted object, the product of consummate skill and time. The tree’s gnarled trunk and gigantic stature give it a dignity and bony realism at odds with the fruit it bears: hundreds of tiny, resinous heads that spring on wires from its branches, bedecking them like amulets or precious trophies. Each fragile head has been individually fashioned from fibreglass to present a bestiary of innumerable species and sub-species marked with minutely differentiated personalities. These range in colour from golden, amber and burnished pink, holding and reflecting the light to varying degrees of lustre and opacity. Their heterogeneity of colours and textures suggest waxen petals, husks of dried skin, excavated bones, metallic trinkets and rough gems; their faces resemble the beings who look down from gothic cathedrals, by turn angel and gargoyle, saint and chimera. Mingling a semblance of nature with the fantastical, The Waq Tree is a specimen of Magic Realism, its unlike elements achieving surreal physical existence. The sculpture’s name derives harks back to the 'Waqwaq Tree' in Islamic tradition, known also as the 'Speaking Tree' in the cycle of legends built up around Alexander the Great, which warned him of the perils of invading India. According to the scholar Richard Lannoy in his landmark study of Indian culture, the Waqwaq Tree 'was often portrayed on Harappan seals four millennia ago as sprouting heads of a bovine unicorn, encircling a female deity … or even growing from her body. The association of India with oracular trees bearing strange fruit derives from tales of the tree-worship which has flourished there since remote antiquity.' Reaching back towards and re-creating such an ancient symbol, Kher engages in ritual, giving life anew to the legend. The care and artistry brought to bear in the piece itself invests the motif with human import. Yet significantly her tree lies on its side. It is apparently displaced rather than uprooted, as though transported over great time and distance to another culture, a curiosity whose meanings and powers have lost their standing. In such an incarnation, the tree’s babble of voices each offering its unique conflicting council is muted. Instead it is a sculpture to be looked at; to be appreciated as much for its man-made eloquence as for its mythological potency.
In 'The skin speaks a language not its own' (2006), a slumped life-size she-elephant covered with thousands of tiny white sperm bindi, Kher has created a work endowed by mythology with multiple competing meanings: 'A white elephant in Europe is a folly,' she explains. 'While in Asia it is a sign of good luck, and in Thailand, the King of Siam would give a white elephant as a gift to a person he would like to destroy. Myths legends, stories and associations are so different in different places.'
Other sculptures such as 'An Absence of Assignable Cause' (2007), Kher's bindi-bedecked envisioning of a sperm whale's heart, are sufficiently astonishing and allusive to make their own mythologies. Such embellished allegories belong to a distinctly Indian tradition whilst being undeniably new. Her art, according to the critic and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, offers 'a very relevant negotiation with old India and the present ... it's a productive tension between tradition and modernity.'
Selected Solo Exhibitions
In Her Own Language, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, Perth, Australia
Misdemeanours, Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, China
three decimal points. Of a minute of a second of a degree, Hauser & Wirth, Zurich, Switzerland
Anomalies, Kukje Gallery, Seoul
Bind the Dream State to your Waking Life, Nature Morte, New Delhi, India
Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, London, England
The hot winds that blow from the West, Hauser & Wirth, New York NY
Many, (too) many, more than before, Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Hong Kong, China
Reveal the secrets that you seek, Savannah College for Art and Design, Savannah GA
Leave your smell, Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris, France
inevitable undeniable necessary, Hauser & Wirth, London, England
Hauser & Wirth Outdoor Sculpture: Bharti Kher, Southwood Garden, St. James' Church, London
disturbia, utopia, house beautiful, GALLERYSKE, Bangalore, India
Sing to them that will listen, Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris, France
Virus, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, England
An Absence of Assignable Cause, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York NY
An Absence of Assignable Cause, Gallery Nature Morte, New Delhi, India
Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons because you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup, GALLERYSKE and Project 88, Mumbai, India
Quasi-, mim-, ne-, near-, semi-, -ish, -like, GALLERYSKE, Bangalore, India
Hungry Dogs Eat Dirty Pudding", Nature Morte, New Delhi, India
The Private Softness of Skin, Gallery Chemould, Mumbai, India
The Private Softness of Skin, Bose Pacia Gallery, New York NY
Selected Group Exhibitions
Codes of Culture, Gallery SKE, New Delhi, India
Go East - The Gene & Brian Sherman Contemporary Asian Art Collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi, India
GIRL - curated by Pharrell Williams, Galerie Perrotin, Paris, France
Seeing through Light, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Trade Routes, Hauser & Wirth London, London
New Delhi Inaugural show, GALLERYSKE, New Delhi
We are Ours: A Collection of Manifestos for the Instant, Khoj International Artists’ Association, New Delhi, India
Art & Textiles – Fabric as Material and Concept in Modern Art from Klimt to the Present, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg, Germany
Misled by Nature: Contemporary Art and the Baroque, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto (Travelling Exhibition)
La Belle & la Bête, Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez, Bordeaux, France
Dot Systems From Pointillism to Pixelation, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen, Germany
India: Art Now, Arken Museum of Modern Art, Arken, Denmark
Massive/Intensive: Contemporary Art from India, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Tel Aviv, Israel
The Best of Times, The Worst of Times. Rebirth and Apocalypse in Contemporary Art. First International Biennale of Contemporary Art, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Kiev, Ukraine
Indian Highway VI, MAXXI Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo, Rome, Italy
Paris – Delhi – Bombay, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France
Pattern ID, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City MO (Travelling Exhibition)
Festival der Tiere, Essl Museum, Klosterneuberg, Austria
Time Unfolded, Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, India
Indian Highway IV, Musée d'Art Contemporain, Lyon France
Pattern ID, Akron Art Museum, Akron OH (Travelling Exhibition)
21st Century: Art in the first Decade, Queensland Art Gallery, Queensland, Australia
Tokyo Art Meeting, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan
Lebenszeichen. Altes Wissen in der zeitgenössischen Kunst / Signs of Life. Ancient Knowledge in Contemporary Art, Kunstmuseum Luzern, Lucerne, Switzerland
Susan Hefuna – Bharti Kher – Fred Tomaselli: Between the Worlds, Kunstmuseum Thun, Thun, Switzerland
Nature Nation, Museum on the Seam, Jerusalem, Israel
Chalo! India: A New Era of Indian Art/Open Your Third Eye, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul, Korea (Travelling Exhibition)
Chalo! India: A New Era of Indian Art, Essl Museum, Klosterneuberg, Austria (Travelling Exhibition)
Indian Highway II, Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo, Norway
Who's afraid of the artists? A Selection of works from the Pinault Collection, Palais des Arts de Dinard, France
Re-Imagining Asia. A Thousand Years of Separation, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany (Travelling Exhibition)
Chalo! India: A New Era of Indian Art, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan (Travelling Exhibition)
Distant Nearness, The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College, Kansas City KS
Indian Highway,Serpentine Gallery, London, England
India Moderna, Institut Valencia d'Art Modern, Valencia, Spain
Hungry God, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada
The 5th Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia,
Le Troisième Oeil, Lille 3000, Lille, France
Zeitsprünge, Raumfolgen, IFA Galerie, Berlin, Germany
Androgyne, Indian Habitat Center, New Delhi, India
Khoj Residency Show, Khoj Studios, New Delhi, India
Photosphere, Nature Morte, New Delhi, India
Kitch kitch Hota Hai, New Delhi, India
Open Circle Exhibition, Lakeeren Art Gallery, Mumbai, India
Embarkations, Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai, India
Source: Hauser & Wirth
Rastogi, Akansha, Karode, Roobina (eds.), 'Seven Contemporaries', New Delhi: Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, 2015 (exh. cat.)
Neave, Dorinda, Blanchard, Lara (et al.), 'Asian Art', Boston: Pearson, 2015, p. 101, ill.
Rockbund Art Museum (ed.), 'Misdemeanours: Bharti Kher', Shanghai: Shanghai Fine Arts Publisher, 2014 (exh. cat.)
Bracker, Dr. Alison, 'Here Today…', London: Artwise Curators, 2014, pp. 96 – 97, ill. colour (exh. cat.)
Kukje Gallery (ed), 'Bharti Kher. Anomalies', Seoul: Kukje Gallery, 2014 (exh. cat.)
Fontanel, Béatrice, 'ma première histoire de l'art', Paris: Éditions Palette, 2014
Ritterskamp, Julia, Goodrow, Gérard A. (eds.), 'Passages. Indian Art Today', Cologne: Daab Media, 2014
Unterdörfer, Michaela (ed.), 'Hauser & Wirth. 20 Years', Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2013
Wetherilt, Caroline, 'Misled by Nature: Contemporary Art and the Baroque', Ottawa: National Gallery of Canada, 2012, pp. 36 – 43, ill. (exh. cat.)
Arken Museum of Modern Art Ishoj Denmark, 'India: Art Now', Ishoj: Arken Museum of Modern Art, 2012, p. 4, 23, pp. 25, 69, pp. 142-143, ill. (exh. cat.)
Ardalan, Ziba, 'Bharti Kher', London: Parasol unit for contemporary art, 2012 (exh. cat.)
Spieler, Reinhard, Scheuermann, Barbara, 'Punkt Systeme', Heidelberg – Berlin: Kehrer Verlag, 2012, pp. 62, 63, ill. (exh. cat.)
Galerie Perrotin, 'Bharti Kher. blind, eyes open', Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong, 2012 (exh. cat.)
Essl, Agnes and Karlheinz, 'Festival der Tiere', Klosterneuburg: Essl Museum, p. 102-103, ill. (exh. cat.)
Centre Pompidou, 'Paris – Delhi – Bombay... ', Paris: Centre Pompidou, 2001, pp. 245 – 247, ill. (exh. cat.)
Hirsch, Helen, 'Susan Hefuna – Bharti Kher - Fred Tomaselli. Zwischen den Welten / Between the Worlds', Heidelberg – Berlin: Kehrer Verlag, 2010, pp. 68-92, ill. (exh. cat.)
Bradley, Barbara J., 'Pattern ID', Akron OH: Akron Art Museum, 2010, pp. 28, 54, 61, ill. (exh. cat.)
Chiu, Melissa; Genocchio, Benjamin, 'Contemporary Asian Art', London: Thames & Hudson, 2010, pp. 121, 141, ill.
Nishikawa, Mihoko, 'Transformation', Tokyo: Kazuo Hirasawa, 2010, pp. 86-95, ill. (exh. cat.)
Fischer, Peter; Bürgi, Brigitt (eds.), 'Lebenszeichen. Altes Wissen in der zeitgenössischen Kunst / Signs of Life. Ancient Knowledge in Contemporary Art', Heidelberg: Kehrer Verlag, 2010, pp. 103, 105, 107, ill. (exh. cat.)
Sinha, Gayatri (ed.), 'Voices of Change. 20 Indian Artists', Mumbai: The Marg Foundation, 2010, pp. 226-239, ill.
Häussler, Harriet, Bastian, Aeneas (eds.), 'Aus Künstlersicht', Bielefeld: Kerber Verlag, 2009, pp. 88-89, 227, ill.
Essl Museum, 'Chalo! India. Eine neue Ära indischer Kunst. A New Era of Indian Art', Munich: Prestel, 2009, pp. 2, 132-137, ill. (exh. cat.)
Gallery Soulflower (ed.), 'From Surface to Origin: Journeys through recent Art from India & Thailand', Bangkok: Gallery Soulflower, 2008 (exh. cat.)
Merali, Shaheen (ed.), 'Re-Imagining Asia. A thousand years of separation', Beirut: Chemaly & Chemaly, 2008, pp. 286-289, ill. (exh. cat.)
Madden, Kathleen (ed.), 'Indian Highway', London: Koenig Books Ltd, 2008, pp. 104-111, ill. (exh. cat.)
Miki, Akiko, Tomoko, Kuroiwa, et al. (eds.), 'Chalo! India. A New Era of Indian Art', Tokyo: Mori Art Museum, 2008, pp. 154-159, ill. (exh. cat.)
Nath, Deeksha, Mulgund, Deepti/Paul, Sunita (Eds.), 'Still Moving Image', New Delhi: Devi Art Foundation, 2008 (exh. cat.)
Kavita Singh, Shukla Sawant, Naman Ahuja (ed.), 'Where in the World', Devi Art Foundation, New Delhi, 2008, pp. 92-93, ill. (exh. cat.)
Jack Shainman Gallery (ed.), 'Bharti Kher', New York NY: Jack Shainman Gallery, 2007 (exh. cat.)
Jha, Radhika, Neutres, Jerome (eds.), 'New Delhi – New Wave', Milan: Damiani, 2007, pp. 70-87, ill. (exh. cat.)
Chevalier dans l'Ordre et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters
ARKEN Art Prize
YFLO Woman Achiever of the Year
The Sanskriti Award
References and notes
- Bharti Kher, ARKEN Museum of Modern Art
- Bharti Kher: Misdemeanours
- Bharti Kher, Khoj International Workshops
- Punj, Rajesh (April 2010). "Bharti Kher". Asian Art Newspaper.
- Holmes, Pernilla (April 2009). "Connecting the Dots" (PDF). ARTnews: 96–101.
- Bharti Kher, HEART Herning Museum
- Bharti Kher inevitable undeniable necessary
- Bharti Kher ARKEN Museum of Modern Art
- Griselda Murray Brownm, The art of misunderstanding, Financial Times
- Susan Silas and Chrysanne Stathacos Conversation with Bharti Kher
- Bharti Kher The hot winds that blow from the West
- Bharti Kher Queensland Art Gallery
- Bharti Kher, The Saatchi Gallery