The anatomy of imagination

In her recent exhibition, artist Bharti Kher responds to how the body moves through life and its multiple experiences
Artist Bharti Kher.
Artist Bharti Kher.

Bharti Kher has explored a variety of materials over the last three decades of her artistic practice. Through her sculptures, the Delhi-based artist seeks to initiate a dialogue between metaphysical and material pursuits.

Her recent exhibition Strange Attractors - it is named after a mathematical concept - is currently on display at Nature Morte Gallery in Chhatarpur. A display of eight pieces that were made between 2017 and 2021 by Kher, this exhibition is an interpretation of the several manifestations of the body and the spaces outside it.

"The way we move through the world isn’t random or unnoticed; I want to believe that it is connected to all things and everything. The body is a transmitter and a receiver and all things are seen," Kher mentions in her concept note.

In an interview with The New Indian Express, Kher throws light on her creative process and shares details of the sculptures on display here. Excerpts…

The bindi and the sari have been used extensively in the sculptures showcased as part of Strange Attractors. What was the idea behind incorporating them in your work, given both, the sari and the bindi, are of importance in Indian culture.

The bindi has always been a sign for me, a representation. Over the years, it has become my visual language that I use to ask questions about my work. In the sari artworks, the sari represents both an absence and a presence of a body, but refuses to bear any stereotypes. Through the language of sculpture and what we know as familiar (in this case, the sari) I wanted to talk about the ideas of femininity, power, and sisterhood.

The sari women series - like all of my works - are constructs: creating their own narratives by using negation to suggest presence. These are all women I have known, admired, or imagined. Some are friends, some are fictional; almost all are magical.

When I read that Benazir Bhutto had been shot five times, it gave rise to the sculpture you see in the exhibition. Benazir, 2021 - with five holes in her body that I have threaded the saris through. Cloak for MM 2018 is a similar homage to the sculptural form my dear friend Mrinalini Mukherjee worked with. These are her saris in the work.

How does 'the body' play an important role in bringing together the sculptures in 'Strange Attractors'?

There are eight works in this exhibition. They all describe space within and without the body; psychological, physical, and mythical. In Pieta, 2018: the body from inside as mother. Cast from life. Broken to re-enter the body of my mother. In Strange Attractor, 2021: The possibility of the body as shaman with the skin or power of another.

The entrance to the show to summon visitors in. The animal is a metaphor for the things we don’t know. In Cloak for MM, 2018: The concealed body. To be made invisible, shielded. Magical. In A natural unity of opposites, 2021: the space around the body and all things in balance both outer world and inner.

You have mentioned that you keep coming back to your work from time to time. Do you think this passage of time somehow adds to the final sculpture?

I am always on the search for objects, and very aware that all things have inherited histories. I’m interested in pushing them towards a new space; a type of myth-making or arrival. The idea is to forge deeper into the mysteries of familiar things and allow them space to transform into their new selves. Time allows the works to grow into themselves. I am never really in a hurry to finish anything too! I like living with my work in the studio.

You have used a series of 'found objects' in your piece 'A natural unity of opposites'. How do you think these objects add to the meaning of the final structure?

In this work, the objects produce a tension of opposites, without which no forward movement is possible. One object is on top and its shadow underneath, and just as high seeks for low and hot for cold, so all matter seeks its unconscious opposite.

For without it, there is no dynamic, only stagnation. Life is born from the spark of opposites, and the greater the tension between the pairs of opposites, the greater will be the energy that comes from them. All the objects are a mixture of things I have in the studio: made, found, old and new.

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