From music to dance, painting to sculpting, art comprises of a vast range of activities and products involving both creative and technical skills.
This week, NewsX’s award winning show Art Talk featured one of India’s best contemporary artists, Bharti Kher. She and her highly regarded husband, Subodh Gupta, are called the power couple of art in the country. From painting and sculpture to installations, Bharti’s art is wide ranging. But if there is a signature symbol that defines her, it’s the bindi on an woman’s forehead!
‘The Skin Speaks A Language Not Its Own’ was a landmark work of Bharti’s that made her very famous internationally. Created in 2006, it was actually a life-sized elephant covered with thousands of sperm bindis. According to Bharti, her work is not always celebratory and carries a slightly dark side to the idea of happiness. To her, the idea of making an elephant was about creating empathy.
When one looks at the elephant, one starts feeling a sense the heaviness of the body but the bindis ‘lift’ the work, so the elephant looks like she’s floating, somehow creating the feeling of redemption in the piece.
But the fact is that the animal is actually dying. There is a lot of such contradiction in Bharti’s work. And that’s where her art becomes interesting, this ability to play with perception, with what others see, and what they know, and how they feel when they look at a work.
This work proved to be a milestone for her and rocketed her to international stardom. It sold for $1.5 million at a Sotheby’s auction in 2010. It’s the highest price for a contemporary woman artist from India. And the record still stands!
Absence of Assignable Cause
In 2007, Bharti did another iconic work, 'An Absence of an Assignable Cause' in which she made the heart of a blue sperm whale. But what made her do that?
As per Bharti, she is an animal enthusiast. After the elephant, she wanted to do another large iconic work which had some presence. She spent a lot of time reading about strange habits of animals. One thing we all learnt as a child was that the heart of the blue sperm whale is the largest functional mammal heart in the world. This stayed with her since she was a kid. She spent about six months researching and trying to get images of the heart of a blue sperm whale which proved to be very difficult. Eventually, she found it in New Zealand from a whale centre.
They sent her a picture of a whale heart as a line drawing. They actually sent her drawings of three hearts - blue sperm whale, horse and human.
So Bharti made a life-sized heart about 14 feet high. Imagine the idea of the biggest heart floating in the ocean. For Bharti it’s the absence of an assignable cause that defines her art. At another level, it’s also about relationships with people, life, about joy and heartbreak. And about love.
Good art and successful artists
According to Bharti, good art has the power to take you somewhere that you didn’t know existed. It’s not necessarily about making you feel good about yourself, but it can do that as well. It transforms you. It’s also about moving you from places that you are comfortable with - for better or for worse.
On the other hand, to be a good artist, one has to have a lot of tenacity and perseverance. You need to read widely. One needs to be very curious about their subject and read a lot of art history. Just looking at all the artists before you and see what they have done also helps a lot.
And the artist has to decide what he or she wants to create in terms of a language that is uniquely theirs. And once they decide, hen they must stick with it.
(Art Talk is on Saturdays
9:55 pm; Sundays 1:25 pm
& 10:25 pm - on NewsX channel)