Hindu’s bindis make a statement

Artist Bharti Kher aims to look at the female body in a less puritanical way.— PHOTO: S. ANANDAN

Renowned contemporary artist Bharti Kher says she has the extraordinary privilege of being a woman in India — a place where the idea of patriarchy is very strong, sexuality is skewed and representation of women on television and in Bollywood films highly stereotyped.

While everyone is gaga over the portrayal of the female protagonist in Queen as a liberated woman, she frowns at the film, terming it as way beyond patronizing and trite. “I couldn’t sit through the film,” she told The Hindu during an interview in Kochi recently. She was in the city to do preparatory work for the forthcoming edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

“It’s okay to be vulnerable, and to be strong, you needn’t be extraordinary,” she says. Describing the Hindu goddess of Kali as possessing ‘powerful sexuality’, she says Hinduism as a religion is extraordinarily plural. But some changed it to suit their extraordinary convenience, she adds.

Seeing so much of violence against women all around, Ms. Kher wonders why there’s so much of pent-up anger in society.

Talking about her works, which have for long been built around the independent leitmotifs of animals and bindis, she says it never occurred to her why she made art. With the physicality of women — its tactile qualities, voluptuousness and ordinariness — being a stark feature of her works, Ms. Kher thinks her aim is to look at the female body in a less puritanical way, to mock at it even as a woman and to figure it out as a kind of comic beauty.

The bindis, hundreds of which in varied shapes and sizes often adorn her sculptures, are materials for Ms. Kher. They form a kind of vocabulary she’s made for herself. Repeated use of them, a fundamental practice, creates an idea of scholarship and of history being captured at a particular moment. Constant engagement also validates the material, she reasons.

“Art is something that is generally perceived to be not required in daily life. But when people say, ‘I would have done that pointing at something made by me, my query would be, ‘alright, but why didn’t you do it then?’” she says.

Constant engagement with her materials transforms them, giving them the characteristics of an idiom, a certain historical relevance.

Through abstraction, she has been able to bring to the fore ideas of body movement, journeys within and around the body and the like. Use of animal figures dawned on her after stumbling upon author Mikhail Bulgakov’s use of a cat to talk of the human condition.

This had her understand the process of negation, which is central to many of her works. The collage of mythical creatures in her works creates a kind of third dimension, defined as they are by the space around them, dishing out a sort of magical realism where the figures that are instinctively sophisticated point at things outside. “I use animals, but the works are not about animals,” she emphasises.

Source: The Hindu