Bharti Kher‘s The hot winds that blow from the West showcases five variant pieces and is on view now at the East 69th Street location of Hauser & Wirth. On site for the show’s opening, the artist was born and educated in Britain, but moved to New Delhi, India in the early 1990s. The exhibition’s titular work is a large sculpture of stacked radiators, imported to Kher’s Indian studio from the United States over a period of six years. Stripped of their initial purpose as heaters, the ribbed design is dually linear and unnerving; repetitive carcasses pack the political implication of now-cold American heaters and suggest a recalibrating globalization with decreasing need for Western influence. More literally, ‘the hot wind that blows from the west’ is a reference to a summer wind called The Loo in Punjab. The region of Punjab is home to the northern border of India and Pakistan, a region fraught with conflict following post-colonial divisions.
Kher has disqualified the neat packaging of gender and directions in her work, while she does not claim to imbue her work with the personal—be it the Indian, the female, the foreign, or the autobiographical. In the press release, she states,“It is assumed that because I was raised by Indian parents in England and then moved to India myself, I am commenting upon my own displacement or my own journey. But my motivation does not come from the usual issues of diaspora. I am always far more interested in the viewer’s journey than my own.”
Instead, the transformative takes precedence, with the concept of transitional division often recurring in Kher’s work. Incorporating bindis into her imagery since 1995, the bindi—despite its many decorative variations in contemporary women’s fashion—is worn on the forehead and is intrinsically intended to signify the ‘third eye’ bridging the connection to the spiritual world. Kher paints and shapes bindis to suit individual works, pasting them to everything from mirrors to stairwells as painterly statements of shape-shifting reflection.
One standout work expressing this thematic duality is Reveal the secrets that you seek (2011), comprised of a series of 27 mirrors from the Porte de Clignancourt flea market in Paris. The work was previously shown in Paris last year, at the Centre Pompidou for Paris-Delhi-Bombay. The sheets of the mirrors were shattered and lined with black-painted bindis. In Indian culture, women wear bindis on the forehead, just above the space between the eyebrows, and the gridded lines of bindis spread across the tangible reflection is noteworthy as an examination as such. Almost like tire tracks, or coordinates crossing a map, the bindis act as both a covering of the literal reflection and as a tool to a more metaphysical one.
Duality continues with A line through space and time (2011), a 17-foot stairwell appropriated from an old home in India. Sperm-shaped bindis spiral around the wood, and the back of the stairs are painted with light swishes of red. Paired with the superficial concept of bindis as a womanly marriage symbol, the sperm-coated staircase has the potential to represent a patriarchal power-play—a chauvinistic counterpart to the western motif of the glass ceiling. The red paint could possibly be seen as sindoor, the red powder which traditionally indicates marriage on a woman’s forehead. However, like the duality of a reflective mirror, the stairwell leads neither up nor down, the clarity of a reflection or the cubes of a stairwell is neither masculine nor feminine.
Despite the deliberate departure from traditional roles and interpretations, there is an element of perspective that inevitably stems from one person’s perspective as female, albeit not deliberately autobiographical. The use of the staircase and mirror pays homage to the domestic space, in which women traditionally command roles as homemakers and mothers. However, there are also dangers to the home space, in which the privacy and intimacy of the space can lend itself to uninhibited, darker revelations.
A more symbolic expression of this power dichotomy is personified in The messenger (2011), Kher’s representation of Hindu deity Dakini. Dakini, goddess of energy, is characterized by movement, treachery, and enlightenment. The work’s title, The messenger, is one aspect of Dakini’s capabilities. The sculpture is part animal (with a monkey tail fashioned from fabric), continuing the hybrid theme present throughout the exhibition.
Bharti Kher begets artistic comparison to fellow New Delhi-based artist Subodh Gupta. Gupta most recently showed at Hauser & Wirth from May to June in 2011, and similarly incorporates ritualistic cultural objects into his work. Gupta and Kher are married with children in India. They have studios in Gurgaon, an affluent suburb of the city of New Delhi.
Exhibition Site [Hauser & Wirth]
Bharti Kher [Hauser & Wirth]
Inspired by an Ancient Hindu Sign [Wall Street Journal]
Go See – New York: Subodh Gupta’s “A glass of water” at Hauser & Wirth, through June 18, 2011 [Art Observed]