Born 1969 in London, England Lives and works in New Delhi, India
Fundamentally a painter and sculptor, Bharti Kher’s artistic practice is nonetheless highly diverse in its approach to materials, methods and subject matter. Kher has lived since the early 1990s in India, where she explores the construction of culture and identity. Often using everyday and found objects, such as bindis and bangles, Kher uses the forms and ideas of minimalism, abstraction and the readymade to engage with a range of ideas, including gender politics, language, mythology, hybridity, dislocation, transmogrification and narrative.
Bharti Kher’s Six Women, 2013–14, is a series of life-sized, sitting female sculptures, cast from real women in her New Delhi studio. Kher sees the body as a literal and metaphorical site for the construction of ideas around gender, mythology and narrative. In the mid-2000s, she began to create a series of strangely beautiful, but quietly grotesque, hybrid figurative sculptures of women that fused human and animal body parts. Kher described them as ‘mythical urban goddesses, creatures who came out of the contradiction of the idea of femininity or the idea of womanhood … she is the goddess, the housewife, the mother, the whore, the mistress, the lover, the sister … everything’. These works would prove pivotal for Kher, who was at the time negotiating a new role for herself as ‘mother’ and ‘taking stock but also reclaiming some power … and creating this other being’. These vulnerable, arresting and unapologetically complicated figures would trigger in Kher a new way of looking at the body.
Critically, the vulnerability of the women stems only in part from their nakedness; Kher’s sitters were sex workers, paid by the artist to sit for her, in a self-conscious transaction of money and bodily experience. Throughout the process, Kher asked herself: ‘If the body can carry the memory of other bodies as well, what does this mean? Can a body carry narratives that don’t belong to it?’ Located within the Embassy of the Real, Kher’s sculptures address the physicality and inherent vulnerability of the body and quietly challenge our perceptions of the body in contemporary culture.
As tender portraits of women, with their resolved sense of calm and gentle rolls of flesh, the works distil a very human set of emotions, beyond simply the rendering of their figurative form. Says Kher, ‘It’s a strange and cathartic process, casting. When you caress the skin and rub the plaster gently over and over so as all the pores and creases are etched and filled with plaster, it’s like encasing and mummifying a living being. You are trying to capture their breath, to find the imprint of their minds and thoughts, and the secrets of the soul…What the cast carries, only the model can give… I have no idea what people think about when their heads are encased in plaster… The head is truly the most challenging and awkward part for them. It is always the last part. It involves complete trust and absolute calm in the model. Everyone seems to summon into being who they need to be to complete the casting.’
Bharti Kher has exhibited extensively internationally, with solo shows including ‘Bharti Kher: Misdemeanours’, Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai (2014); ‘Bharti Kher’, Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art, London (2012); and ‘Reveal the secrets that you seek’, Savannah College of Art and Design Museum of Art, Savannah (2012). Major group exhibitions include ‘Whorled Explorations’, Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014; ‘Seeing through light’, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi (2014); and ‘Paris-Delhi-Bombay…’, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2011).