Bharti Kher is a contemporary Indian artist, the leading female artist of her generation. Kher was born in London. She studied art in England, graduating in 1991 from Newcastle Polytechnic. Kher is a rare reverse emigre who moved back to India from the United Kingdom in 1992 at the age of 23, having not set foot on Indian soil for almost twenty years. Her permanent residence is New Delhi.
Kher creates art that references India’s culture, history and civilization. She investigates and reinterprets modern India in various ways. She makes hybrid creatures or magical beasts, which relate back to myths and allegorical tales. She also combines actual symbols of Indian culture and ethnicity, two of which are the elephant and the bindi.
In Kher’s most iconic and most talked about art work “The Skin Speaks a Language not its Own” 2006, can be found these two symbols. This monumental work is a powerfully emotive sculpture of a life-size female Indian elephant, brought to her knees in an untenable position. She could be falling or rising, living or dying. This work took the artist ten months to create as she contoured every fold and recess of the elephant’s skin with intricately arranged patterns of thousands of white bindis, which swarm across the elephant like a second skin.
Her signature motif, the bindi, is traditionally a mark of pigment applied to the forehead which is associated with the Hindu symbol of the third eye that sees beyond the material world. It is also traditional in Indian weddings, where the red daub on the bride’s forehead is a marker of her marital status and reveals her place in society.
The choice of the elephant in this work also references the Hindu elephant god Ganesh, whose image has adorned Hindu temples for centuries. The elephant is revered and worshipped in religious ceremonies and is a symbol of power and traditional royal authority in India.
Highly regarded for her sculptural work, Kher has also produced paintings and installations that have challenged India’s cultural and social taboos. Her 2008 “Bindis on Painted Board” is composed of multi-layered and vividly colored felt bindis, once again used as a recurring motif in this work. Kher has had dozens of group and solo exhibits in Europe, India, Canada, Australia, and the United States.