Bharti Kher is a world-renowned sculptor, who works in an array of mediums–plaster, bronze, furniture, and even ready-made objects like the stick-on bindi–to create a dizzying variety of pieces. She explores history, tradition, social codes, and cultural misunderstandings. Kher’s exhibitions have been shown in over 40 countries around the world. Her exhibition for Indiana University – as a part of the IU Global Arts and Humanities “India Remixed” festival – will open on Friday evening, February 23, at 6pm in the IU Fine Arts’ Grunwald Gallery, following a lecture from the artist herself at 5pm in the Fine Arts Auditorium.
"I was born in 1969 in London, I lived in the UK till I was 22 years old. I went to India on a holiday, and stayed in India, and made a career and started working. I think I’ve been making art since I was quite young. I had quite an exceptional art teacher actually at school, and so I think from the age of 7 or so, I’m actually going to talk about it in my talk tomorrow, of the art room and what the art room meant for me, and how it was this wonderful place of exploration and magic and how a door was opened for me when I was very young, and how I just entered, and I entered this extraordinary world of art and image making. So from a very young age I knew I wanted to be an artist."
Once she left school at Newcastle and moved to India, Bharti Kher acquainted herself with her new homeland by travelling all around the country, learning about its vast array of diverse cultures, and literally picking up inspiration along the way. During her twenties, Kher made the definitive shift from painting into sculpture, after developing a habit of collecting objects on her travels and bringing back to her studio in Delhi.
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"It’s like I buy objects like a painter would buy paint. You have to have viridian if you’re a painter, so as a sculptor I feel like I have to buy objects as a sculptor, and I have to have objects around me in order to do the work."
By the time she had spent her 36th hour in the state of Indiana, Kher had already visited an antique mall, and an antique book store. She says her work is lead by “lines of inquiry,” as with her series of works using the bindi.
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"I think this idea of inquiry is for me the fundamental of art-making. I don’t necessarily seek to answer the questions that I ask through my work, but I ask many. I am asking them of myself mostly, but I’m also asking them of my viewers. So when I make the bindi say, if it’s a representation or a metaphor for the third eye, I am asking you what do you see and how to you see it … and if it’s a residue for a day in the life of you, what have you seen and how has this marker of your consciousness changed the way you’re going to look at the world today, do you see better, do you see more, do you see more than me? I like the fact that when I make these bindi works, they look back at you, so they are eyes, and so they are my eyes to see into your world, into your space."
The bindi works are just one line of inquiry for Kher. With each of her pieces, and collections, she’s following another. Other collections include Lao’s Mirror, and the Goddess sculpture works.
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Kher was curious about Indiana after she received the invitation to come to IU’s “India Remixed” festival. She had never been to Indiana, and she was interested in the line of dialogue that IU was trying to open up between Indian artists and the scholars, students, faculty, and staff at IU. She says that the world is experiencing a cultural and political climate where keeping such lines of dialogue open is vitally important.
"It’s a very complicated time, and at some times you want to hide your head under a duvet and never come out, and then at other times you want to come out and stand up and say what you feel needs to be said. When all else fails, I go back to my studio and keep making art, and speak through the images that I create."
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Kher has brought a small sampling of her work – a series of the early Bindi paintings, one sculpture of a goddess called, “The Messenger” (which inspired the exhibition’s title), and some newer sculptures. She worked with Betsy Stirup to build this collection that introduces Kehr’s diverse work to IU.
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"I’m an abstract artist and a figurative artist, I wanted people to see that too that you can move through these things that you don’t have to confine your work to any narrow definitions of how artistic practice is now, things have changed a lot in the last 30 to 40 years."
When asked what she hopes students will gain from her lecture on Friday evening, and from seeing her exhibition, “Messengers,”Kehr says she that has no agenda, and cannot guess what the students will take away.
"First meetings are usually introductions, and I think that’s all you’re asking, like, this is an introduction to the work. Students of art are interesting, because I think when I was a student I remember being at Newcastle and when artists would come to the university it was always quite exciting, because if you went to a talk or had a studio visit, you always remembered them because it meant that what you were hoping to do, that there was a future, because what I represent to a young artist is the possibility of being an artist."
Bharti Kher will be giving a lecture Friday evening, February 23, at 5pm, in Auditorium 015 of the Fine Arts Building, at Indiana University. The lecture will detail her process of art making, her inspiration to become an artist, and more. Her exhibition, “Messengers,” will continue through March 23, 2018.