26 Avril 2010

Bharti Kher inevitable undeniable necessary

By Victoria Chaine Mendrzyk
 
Contemporary Indian art has in the last couple of years been very present in England. The Serpentine Gallery organised a group show Indian Highway last winter, the collector Frank Cohen twice showed emerging artists from the subcontinent in his gallery Initial Access through his exhibitions Passage to India I & II, the Saatchi Gallery currently presents paintings and sculptures of young Indian artists in The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today. Many museums and non-commercial galleries in London also presented various historical facets of Indian Art in the recent past. Maharaja: The Splendour of India's Royal Court at the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibited Indian Art from the 18th century until the decolonisation in 1947, Where Three Dreams Cross at the Whitechapel Gallery exhibited photographs from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan from the 19th century to now on.
 
I would like to focus on the work of one contemporary Indian artist, Bharti Kher, who I particularly like and who currently has a solo show: inevitable undeniable necessary at Hauser & Wirth, one of the most interesting and influential commercial galleries in London, housed in a former bank on Piccadilly. 
 
At Hauser & Wirth, Kher shows on the ground floor a little wooden room, originally a Christian confessional. She covers the inside of the room with her trademark colourful bindis. The bindi is a dot that Indian women paint on their forehead once married. Kher uses bindis in all the works and thus changes the meaning of the traditional small circle in various ways. Here the Indian artist beautifully intertwines occidental (the Western architecture) and oriental cultures (the stick-on Indian dots). The work is not autobiographical but one cannot help thinking that the two cultures shaped her thinking process.
 
   
Bharti Kher, Confess, 2009–2010, Wood, bindis, light bulb, 243 x 243 x 243 cm / 95 5/8 x 95 5/8 x 95 5/8 in. Photo: Andy Keate
 
Born in England, she spent her childhood in Surrey and then moved in the 1990s to New Delhi where she currently lives and works. Finally, a single bulb enlightens the little room reminding us of a prison cell. The prison cell is not to be understood literally but rather metaphorically, probably rather like a claustrophobic feminine psychological space.
 
In the same room are medical charts showing various pregnancy stages. The charts are covered with bindis, that the artists called “sperm bindis” because of their shape. They are indeed in the shape of a snake but do represent fertility. The drawings show difficult pregnancies and once more, the very female anguishes are subtly suggested.
 
 
Bharti Kher, Contents, 2010, Bindis on medical charts, 21 parts, 99.54 x 64.5 cm / 39 1/4 x 25 3/8 in. each
 
Upstairs are beautiful mirrors covered in various patterns and colours of bindis. The mirrors are partly broken and the bindis have been arranged according to the cracks. The artist transforms daily objects into beautiful artworks and the female intimacy here appears more peaceful than before.
 
 
Bharti Kher, Indra's net mirror 8, 2010, Bindis on mirror, wooden frame, 192 x 109 x 6.4 cm / 75 5/8 x 42 7/8 x 2 1/2 in. Photo: Mike Bruce

At the Saatchi Gallery is also exhibited another work by the same artist: An Absence of Assignable Cause. The title refers apparently to the lack of information about the death of one of the biggest mammals in the world, the sperm whale. The artist did not find convincing documentation about the animal’s anatomy and created a massive heart partly from her imagination. The veins of the cardiac muscle are represented with – as always - bindis in a convincing way. Though the artist chooses the organ representing life, the work does not seem to refer explicitly to the issue of extinction of the animal but rather plays to the artist’s scientific and aesthetic interest in ethnographic matters, which was also visible in other works like The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own representing a lying elephant.
 
 
Bharti Kher, An Absence Of Assignable Caus, 2007, Bindis on fibreglass, 168 x 308 x 150 cm. Courtesy Saatchi Gallery
 
The two exhibitions at Hauser & Wirth and at the Saatchi Gallery are worth visiting in London, not only because they are challenging our views about Indian art and in particular its contemporary art scene, but also as interesting examples of the strong British interest for its former colony’s contemporary artistic practice.
 
Bharti Kher inevitable undeniable necessary
20 March – 15 May 2010
Address: Hauser & Wirth London, 196A Piccadilly, London W1J 9DY
Gallery hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 10 am – 6 pm
 
The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today
29th January - 7th May 2010
Address: Duke of York's HQ, King's Road, London SW3 4SQ
Opening hours: 10am-6pm, 7 days a week, last entry 5:30pm
 
Victoria Chaine Mendrzyk graduated with an MA Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, a BA in Fine Art and History of Art from Goldsmiths College, University of London and a BA in Philosophy from University of Paris X, Nanterre. She is a free-lance contemporary art guide for children and adults in London’s museums and galleries. For more information about her guided tours, please visit www.catil.co.uk

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