Bharti Kher: The Indian Artist

Jul/16/2023 / by Team Seema
Bharti Kher
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Bharti Kher is known for her unconventional paintings, sculptures, and installations. Read on to learn about her inspirations.

Bharti Kher’s artistic work spans over two decades and encompasses paintings, sculptures, and installations. She has maintained surrealism, storytelling, and focusing on the nature of objects throughout her career. She exploits the premade in a vast arc of meaning and metamorphosis, influenced by various sources and producing processes. Her illusions, legendary monsters, and allegorical stories combine contemporary, traditional, social, and poetic elements.

Here’s Bharti Kher’s Bibliography

Early Life

Born in London, the United Kingdom in 1969, Bharti Kher has resided in New Delhi, India since 1993. She currently lives in Gurgaon, India, a suburb of New Delhi, where she has built a name for herself with ambitious surrealist works that explore several postcolonial topics.

Bharti Kher obtained her BA Honors in Fine Art, Painting in 1991 from the Foundation Course in Art & Design at Newcastle Polytechnic. Bharti Kher’s status as a reverse emigrant, having moved to her family’s home (in India) from England at the age of 23, endowed her work with a unique and specific diasporic viewpoint from the beginning, one that has promoted fluid, non-chronological interpretations on sex, gender, and the human condition.

The British Museum, The Guggenheim, Abu Dhabi, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Queensland Art Gallery in Australia, among others, have exhibited and collected Bharti Kher’s work. Her sculptures, installations, and paintings often garner seven-figure market values, and she is widely regarded as among India’s most influential and significant contemporary artists.

About Bharti Kher’s Work

Bharti Kher’s work is unique and includes painting, sculpture, and installations. One of the main ideas in her work is that the self is more than one thing. Thus, she creates pieces through intertwining elements of humans and animals, resulting in hybrids.

She uses both abstraction and realism in her work. She leverages the drama in items, mythologies and the many different meanings a thing or place can have to create art.

Bharti Kher’s sculptures are the most important part of her work. Some of her early sculptures had fantastical hybrid characters that blurred the lines between humans and nature, politics and ecology. In keeping with this early approach, Bharti Kher continues to gather, contrast, and modify discovered things that bear witness to their histories.

Bharti Kheri uses wooden wheels and ruins of buildings, body casts of mannequins, and pillars, which clash in mis-en-scenes of dystopian chaos and grand orchestration. She puts these elements together in a destructive manner: sometimes suspends them from a ceiling, hangs them from ropes, props them up or keeps them from falling using balances and counterweights. Ultimately, they form a unique story where Bharti Kher has stripped objects of their meaning, leaving them open to other interpretations and magic. In short, she creates work that defies location and place.

How Bharti Kher uses found objects is influenced by the fact that she is an artist who moves between different places and groups of people. She works through exploration: she surveys, looks, collects and changes things. By doing this, she changes how the viewer sees the object and starts a conversation between metaphysical and physical pursuits.

Bharti Kheri and The Bindi

Since the 1990s, Bharti Kher has used bindi in all its different shapes, colors, and forms to do complicated works that are beautiful to look at, hard to make, and have many layers of meaning. The word “bindi” comes from the Sanskrit word “Bindu,” which means a dot or a point. This word is sometimes thought of as the womb or creative seed of the universe. In India, it is a mark made with color on the forehead. This mark is linked to the Hindu symbol of the third eye. If women wear the traditional color of red, it is a sign of marriage.

However, in recent years, it has become a fashion accessory worn by girls who aren’t married and women of all religions. The traditional meaning of the bindi has changed from a religious symbol to a mass-produced object that is becoming increasingly popular worldwide. This is important to Bharti Kher’s work because it is based on her experiences living and working in the UK and India.

Bharti Kher discusses: ‘the bindi to me represents the third eye – one that forges a link between the real and the spiritual/conceptual/other worlds.’ The bindi is a material she uses to show and explain her themes. It’s like paint or clay but has a story about consciousness. It changes its original cultural capital; Bharti Kheri defamiliarizes the bindi, making it scientific, mysterious, and encoded.

Studio

Bharti Kher works out of a massive studio in Gurgaon, a suburb of New Delhi. For her large-scale art, she has many female studio support staff, most of whom are Indian immigrants who moved to the city from smaller villages and towns. They help her put these bindis in geometric shapes that look like maps of how people move.

Importance of Bharti Kher’s work

Bharti Kher’s works are a topology of cultural mischaracterization. They combine Hindu mythology, tantric painting, and found objects into grand odes to individuality. Bharti Kher pieces cut through the theater of assumptions with sharp resonance and play with our need for answers by making us ask more questions.

Kher isn’t just a storyteller. She has always been interested in the sharp corners of beliefs that don’t fit together. She often pairs simple two-dimensional combinations with more complex, aggressive sculptures. Since 1995, Bharti Kher has been adorning her pieces with bindis.

A particular artist commended her work by saying:

In most cases, Bharti Kher’s subjects look both magical and infected, and her The Skin Speaks A Language Not Its Own, which sold for over a million dollars at a Sotheby’s auction in London in 2010, is the best example of this ambiguity.

The sculpture, which took about a year to finish, is a life-size dead elephant lying still on a bed of bindis. Its presence is stark, heavy, and impossible to ignore. In an article for the Guardian, art reporter Mark Brown used the sculpture as a metaphor for India, asking if the elephant was “slumped, fatigued, under the burden of history—or rising, refreshed, ready to become a dominant force once again?”

Most critics have made clear connections between Bharti Kher’s personal and national loyalties and the characters she creates when talking about her work. However, in a press conference with ArtReview that year, Bharti Kher asserted, “It’s easy to say that the displacement in my work reflects my personal life, that the misunderstanding is about myself—they say, “They’re you’; I say, ‘No, they’re you. People who move from one country to another aren’t the only ones who feel like they don’t belong anywhere.

This interest in the mysterious ties Bharti Kher’s work together. Her paintings, which use the shape of the bindi to make both atmospheric mists and modernist targets, hum with a haunting elegance that only her sculptures can match. Grey Not Black, Not White (2017), a piece by Bharti Kher for the Great Women Artists portfolio, is so beautiful that it hurts. It takes the viewer to a place where they feel calm even though they are spinning. Pops of color pop out of a soft grey swirl, showing how hard it is to notice where one culture ends and another begins.

Bharti Kher’s work has a harmonious, dystopian feel, and her hybridized “monstrosities” seem to show the changing social norms they comment on. Her art is never shy, but it often looks like a sphynx. It shows the full range of human emotions.

Solo Exhibitions

Bharti Kher’s recent solo exhibitions include 2022 Arnolfini, ‘Bharti Kher’, Bristol, UK; 2021 Nature Morte, ‘Strange Attractors’, New Delhi, India; 2020 Irish Museum of Modern Art, ‘A consummate joy’, Dublin, Ireland; 2019 Hauser & Wirth, ‘A wonderful anarchy’, Somerset, UK; 2018 Galerie Perrotin, ‘Djinns, Things, Places’, Tokyo, Japan; 2017 Museum Frieder Burda / Salon Berlin; and 2016 Freud Museum, ‘This Breathing House’, London, England, Galerie Perrotin, ‘The Laws of Reversed Effort’, Paris, France, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, ‘In Her Own Language’, Perth, Australia and Vancouver Art Gallery, ‘Matter’, Vancouver, Canada.

Bharti Kher’s recent solo exhibitions include 2022 Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello/Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art; 2021 Firstsite, ‘Sculpture at Firstsite’; 2020; and 2019 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, ‘In the Company of Artists, 25 Years of Artists-In-Residence’, Boston, MA, Irish Museum of Modern Art, ‘Desire: A Revision from the 20th Century to the Digital Age, Dublin, Ireland, Columbus Museum of Art, ‘Driving Forces: Contemporary Art from the Collection of Ann and Ron Pizzuti’, Columbus, OH, Harvard Business School, ‘Public Art Exhibition’, Boston MA and University of Toronto Art Centre, ‘Vision Exchange: Perspectives from India to Canada’, Toronto ON.

Awards

  • Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters) (2015)
  • ARKEN Art Prize (2010)
  • YFLO Woman Achiever of the Year (2007)
  • The Sanskriti Award (2003)

FAQ

Where does Bharti Kher live?

India

For what is Bharti Kher known for?

She’s known for unconventional and bindi-inspired art work

When did Bharti Kher started her career?

In 1991

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