Bharti Kher: An Obsession for Bindis
by Frank Barthelemy
Some artists are fascinating and one does not know really why. I personally put Bharti Kher in this category. There is a mystery around her and around her works. A mysterious mystery if I can add. Does she really exist? Where can I find her? I see her photos, I read articles (very often saying the same things) about her, I surf the web to dip into her art practice and I still find her mysterious. I want to meet her in Bangalore but I am in Paris. I want to meet her in Delhi, and when, we stand next to each other, I don't realize who she is. I try to fix an appointment to talk to her but she is travelling. I just cannot get to meet her. Maybe this is my destiny. And maybe her destiny is to talk about bindis!
The 'bindi' is an intriguing little dot that one sees everyday in India on women's foreheads. Whether made of pigments or a stick-on, it is very often red. It can symbolize marriage; it can symbolize the third eye, the eye of wisdom. It can also be a fashion accessory.
The first time Bharti used bindis in her works was in 1996 with Spit and Swallow. Spit gives the viewers the impression that an army of sperms are rushing towards a central point within a circular form. Swallow give exactly the reverse impression, the zooids are running away from that central point. The pair of work is seducing. The colours are beautiful. Bharti, with the top most symbol of the Indian woman represents masculinity in a very aesthetical way. The accumulation of bindis can also suggest the infinity, the search for objectives. But what if this search is meaningless? What if there is nothing to reach? Do we run away? Or do we make a kid? This pair of work symbolizes to perfection the birth of an obsession for Bharti. A creative obsession that keeps her moving, exploring and inventing new representations with dots linked to each others. She draws lines.
Confess, almost 15 years after Spit and Swallow, maybe her latest installation using the bindis, takes the viewer to his/her sins. The beautiful wood structure of the confessional installation could be an extract from a church, a big church though, considering its size. Throughout her career, Bharti used the bindis in many various different ways but somehow always related to sex or beauty or attraction. So is Confess a request for forgiveness? or redemption? Has Bharti reached a stage where she now wants to move away from it? Does she want to remove the skin of all the life size Plexiglas animals she had created? If Spit was a beginning, would Confess be the end of the bindi cycle?
I do not have the answer and to be honest I am not sure if Bharti has it. She has always been so free to create amazing eye catching meaningful art works that she might well find a new departure through her confession(s). Her works are so rich and magical that it allows people like me to interpret it and reinterpret it, to take it seriously and lightly. There is no end. And I suppose this is what makes a great artist.
Photo courtesy : Andy Keate