Published: Verve Magazine, Nerve, August 2010
Bharti Kher is now considered ‘India’s top woman artist’. We catch up with the 3-time Verve Power Lister post the astounding sale of her sculpture at a recent Sotheby’s auction
Her elephant sculpture, The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own, reportedly sold for a hefty $1.5 million, giving UK-born, India-residing Bharti Kher a permanent residence in the top echelons of artistic stardom. In a quick Q&A:
Artists stray from using traditional symbols of India, but you are popularising them (elephants, bindi etc) as elements with great depth.
It’s not particular to India as such, what I’m interested in is the ready-made and its transformation, and then the cliché and how it sits in our consciousness. When you use something so obvious there has to be subversion.
Every artist strives to have their voice heard and influence public opinion. Do you believe you’ve managed to do that?
I don’t think artists have very powerful voices, we whisper for a long time, perhaps! Maybe people will look at Indian art more, but they have been looking for a long time: this generation has had a lot of exposure already.
Does it bother you that Indians are not the ones purchasing the works; it is a foreign gallery/ foreign collectors?
Yes it would if it was true. Indians do buy my work but less than those from abroad…some major works left when they could have stayed.
Where do you believe Indian artists fall short in terms of gaining international recognition and acceptance?
Indian artists don’t fall short at all, it’s just that the world is a bit slow and needs time to catch up to them!
How does it feel to be one part of a successful couple in the same profession – being married to Subodh Gupta?
We are both working hard right now…we talk, we fight, nothing is easy and we are still sailing.
What attracts you to life-size sculpture?
It creates a relationship with the self. Scale is something I enjoy – whether I want the works to envelope you or seem fragile, so that you (the viewer) feel like a giant or an elf.
Since you work on each piece for a long duration – a few months at a time – do you ever feel that the idea stops mattering to you or changes?
I usually work on many works simultaneously, so none of them ever reach the same level of completion at the same time – therefore the energy is always different at each stage of a work. I have to keep my sanity!
Hypothetically, what do you think your career graph would look like had you remained in the UK and established yourself as an artist from there?
I can’t talk about the things that never were. Maybe I would have been a writer or a mental patient! It’s fun to think about the ‘what ifs’ and go on strange journeys with yourself.