Bharti Kher | England/India b.1969 | The skin speaks a language not its own 2006 | Fibreglass and bindi, ed. 1/3 | 167.6 x 152.4 x 457.2cm (irreg.) | Purchased 2007. | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery
Lives and works in New Delhi, India
Bharti Kher uses stick-on bindis as a central motif in her practice. Traditionally a mark of pigment applied to the forehead of Hindu men and women to symbolise the ‘third eye’, today, the bindi is commercially manufactured and has become a popular decorative item for girls and women of other religions. Kher views the daily ritual of applying this third eye as offering the possibility of seeing the world with fresh eyes. She uses this tiny object to transform various objects and surfaces allowing the viewer to look at them anew.
In The skin speaks a language of its own 2006, Kher uses thousands of tiny white bindis to cover the surface of a full-sized fibreglass elephant, which appears to be on the brink of death. The elephant is revered across Asia as a symbol of dignity, intelligence and strength. The white elephant was used to carry royalty. Ironically, in English, the historical colonial language of India, the term ‘white elephant’ is used to describe something very large and useless. Kher uses the symbolism of the white elephant to question ideas of cultural value. The title of the work suggests that such values may be skin deep.
Exhibitions (solo): ‘inevitable, undeniable, necessary’, Hauser and Wirth, London, United Kingdom, 2010; ‘Virus’, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle, United Kingdom, 2008; ‘An absence of assignable cause’, Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, United States and Nature Morte, Delhi, India, 2007. Exhibitions (group): Tokyo Art Meeting ‘Transformation’, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan, 2010; ‘Indian Highway’, Herning Kunstmuseum, Herning, Denmark, 2010 (travelling exhibition); ‘The Empire Strikes Back: Indian Art Today’, The Saatchi Gallery, London, United Kingdom, 2010; ‘Chalo! India: A New Era of Indian Art’, The Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan, 2009; ‘Indian Highway’, Serpentine Gallery, London, United Kingdom, 2008 (travelling exhibition); ‘The 5th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’, Queensland Art Gallery/Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, 2006.