Centuries before words like self-awareness were coined, Aristotle had remarked -- ‘Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom’. Artist Bharti Kher goes back to these profound words of the Greek philosopher as she explains the idea behind her sculpture titled A Natural Unity of Opposites. The mixed media work shows a resin sari folded on the trunk of a buffalo hanging from a rope and it is balanced with circular wooden beams. The art piece is Kher's way of urging onlookers to 'find their centre'.
"The work describes the state of flux where chaos at all times could just be at a tipping point and yet there's counterbalance and stability. We're always managing many things, balancing things out like ourselves, families, our sense of well-being and anxieties," she explains.
It is part of Kher’s eight sculptures exhibited at Delhi’s Nature Morte Gallery. Showcasing the 59-year-old London-born Indian artist’s works between 2017 and 2021, the exhibition titled Strange Attractors is a reflection of Kher’s ideas of chaos, life, regeneration and the power of women.
Perhaps that’s why when one enters the gallery, the sculptures seem to speak boldly of their creator's language. For instance, a distorted form of a monkey with its tail balancing on a tiny house makes you ponder over the idea of existence and balance.
Kher says, "She's strange but for me, she's the shaman. She welcomes you to this strange world where we're not really sure what's going or coming."
She explains how the title of the show is befitting as it comes from the mathematical theory in chaos whereby things that come together randomly will move apart and there’s constant shift and change.
Kher, married to well-known artist Subodh Gupta, is one of the most prominent Indian contemporary artists whose oeuvre ranges from painting, sculpture to installation. Her art offers a sense of magic realism through its portrayal of daily life and rituals.
In her three-decade long career, Kher has never failed to bring a systemic connection running through her work, its narratives and the nature of things. This thought-provoking exhibition comes at a time when the world is going through a state of flux.
Kher's works bring in a semblance of positivity, her idea of regeneration seems like the streak of light at the end of the tunnel. Her last solo exhibition in India was in 2013.
Amongst Kher's signature materials is the bindi. It first started appearing in her work in 1995 and she has since embraced its aesthetic and cultural duality. Kher explains, "The bindi to me represents the third eye -- one that forges a link between the real and the spiritual/conceptual/other worlds."
Her work 'Cause and Effect', in the current exhibition, has bindis on a smashed mirror. It is part of the new series that Kher started in 2020 with mirrors. "I am tapping into the history of mirrors. The body and mind and the idea of you the self is multiple. So when you see a reflection of yourself it is many selves. You break them to fix them and create something new; it uses the idea of regeneration. It’s about loss and love, creation and destruction."
The bindis also feature in Kher’s most iconic 2006 sculpture -- 'The Skin Speaks a Language Not On Its Own' -- which fetched a record Rs 6.9 crore at the Sotheby's auction in 2010. Kher's works belong in the collections of the Tate and the British Museum in the UK; the National Museum of Canada; the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi; the Walker Art Center and the North Carolina Museum of Art in the US, to name a few.
Kher works with found objects and almost anything. She says, "I work with clay, build things, I cast, burn, break, rejoin and purchase. I like anything that's new. It was wax for a while, then concrete."
Most of her artworks in the current exhibition are dedicated to women. "The fact that we can have children is incredible," she says.
The wax and plaster 'Pieta' is a reverse reference to Michelangelo's Renaissance sculpture Pieta which depicts Mother Mary carrying the lifeless body of Jesus, it had garnered controversy about making the mother look youthful. But Kher's Pieta is raw, vulnerable and weathered.
She says, "This is my mother and she is older and looks like all my friends’ mothers -- vulnerable, old and fragile. There's no heroism in my Pieta, I'm not making it larger than life but emotionally and psychologically the work is gigantic because it represents our mothers who’re vulnerable and as we age, our bodies start to break down in some ways."
Perhaps it's this self-awareness that Aristotle spoke about. Something that Kher magically brings out in her sculptures.
Spotlight on Benazir
The exhibition has Kher's 2021 sculpture Benazir dedicated to former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir
Bhutto. The artist who was fascinated by Bhutto was shaken when she was assassinated and wrote in her sketchbook that she would someday create something dedicated to her. The 83x36x36 inches sculpture has five holes for the five times Bhutto was shot at in 2007.
When & Where
Exhibition on till January 9 at Nature Morte Gallery, Delhi