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Bharti Kher’s sculpture display in London has sparked off cross-flow conversations. By Uma Nair
Artists of different generations and from across the world — including a strong female voice — have come together to explore multiple concepts, spanning political and architectural ideas, natural forms and material experimentation at Frieze Sculpture in London that opened on July 4 as part of a brilliant curatorial venture by Claire Lilly. It will be on till October and feature works by 25 contemporary and modern artists presented by the world’s leading galleries.
British-born Bharti Kher, who has just enthralled art lovers at the Kunstmuseum in Wolfsburg Germany, is one among the 25 artists. Her work is a 4.8 metre-high bronze entitled Intermediary Family (2018) and is represented by the prestigious Hauser & Wirth worldwide. Critics are already listing her work among the top five in the suite.
In an interview in London, Kher said it’s as tall as a two-storeyed house. But the three humanoid figures are more like a family portrait with a shamanistic tinge. “They are avatars of human psychology, the gods, the planets. They are djinns,” she added. In the great outdoors, the 4.8 m work revels in its materiality and engages in a dialogue with its surroundings. Indian gods and goddesses in an English garden will provoke quaint and curious responses. The best thing about Kher is she is never predictable, she depends on the fulcrum of fiction and research to create her sculptural entities that brim with multiple references. Opposites and dualities come together to create a fictional universe.
Four months at an artist’s residency at Hauser & Wirth Somerset in 2016 gave birth to the 4.8 metre sculpture. Between beautiful dawns and the slow English dusk, Kher contemplated in the quiet stillness of the English countryside, listening to Kamasi Washington’s jazz to carve up and re-glue clay figures lined up on trestle tables to create a host of little figures. Crisp colours, blue skies, orange trees and hundreds of shades of green, all added to a new rush of adrenalin. A crate from Delhi filled with clay figures became the catalyst for the larger family that has a half Vishnu, the goddess Lakshmi and a child. In an array of traditional petite figures of gods and goddesses, the sacred and the profane come together to form hybrids — new demi gods born of the old. The series was christened The Intermediaries, the “in-between people, the shamans and the tricksters who are always between states of being, states of living, states of animal and human,” as Kher said.
She couples sensory and intellectual processes, of surveying, looking, collecting and transforming, as she repositions the viewer’s relationship with the sculptures she creates and initiates a dialogue between metaphysical and material pursuits. She presents magical realism with a unique aura.
Intermediary Family (2018) has been forged in a foundry in Hampshire, done in the tradition of moulded golu dolls in south India. Holding a lotus in her right hand with a long garland flanking her right shoulder, the female half is the picture of grace even as a tall fragment.
Kher began working with smaller clay and resin figures about three years ago. Delicately wrought and finely calibrated, Kher emerges as a mistress of visual contradictions. Within the fine mist of antiquity, she balances the equilibrium of the past and the present to create boundaries of distilled gravitas. “I’m still not interested in the thread [that’s] supposed to connect me all together with my work or otherwise,” she said. “We are all hybrids and totally unpredictable. I wanted to make that apparent in my practice.”
London’s Regent Park stands as a verdant paradise to celebrate the landscape, the angles and the views of Kher’s sculpture. As the trees change into autumnal shades, there is no doubt that Kher’s 4.8 m tall sculpture will offer a profound experience in the open air as well as add to a feeling of liberation as people strike up conversations around it.
Kher, a voracious reader and a dynamic diarist, once wrote in her rumination: “You enter art and leave your body, run away and switch axes to a world that exists like no other. For me, art is like that. It’s really quite easy. It feels like soap in wet hands.”
Curator and Director Claire Lilley picks out Kher’s sculpture as one among the top 10. Set against white flowers in the Regent Park, the gods are smiling as the fragmented Lord Vishnu stands like the monarch who surveys with his consort Lakshmi and their offspring. An artist’s testimony to the divine family.
(Image: Hauser & Wirth London)
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