Bharti Kher is a transcultural artist, drawing experiences from both her British and Indian roots. Her work engages with issues of migration, identity, femininity and sexuality. Over the past few years Kher has appropriated the bindi in all its various shapes, colors and forms to create complex works that are visually mesmerizing, technically time consuming and conceptually multi-layered. The term bindi is derived from bindu, the Sanskrit word for a dot or a point, sometimes considered the creative seed or womb of the universe. In India, it is traditionally a mark of pigment applied to the forehead associated with the Hindu symbol of the third eye. When worn by women in the customary color of red, it is a symbol of marriage yet in recent times it has become a decorative item, worn by unmarried girls and women of any religion and transformed into a fashion accessory. The morphing of the traditional significance of the bindi from a symbol full of latent religious meaning to a mass produced object that has become an increasingly global commodity, is relevant to Kher's work which appears to be informed by her experiences of having lived and worked in both the UK and India.
This work draws inspiration from the famous painting The Starry Night (1889) by Dutch Post-Impressionist master Vincent van Gogh, which currently hangs at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. It is regarded as one of the artist’s finest works and is certainly one of the most recognized paintings in the world. The brilliantly contrasting blues and yellows are echoed in Kher’s use of the reflective mirror surface, further giving the piece an interactive quality whereby the viewer can emerge in between the interstellar bindi groupings. The physical arrangement of Kher’s bindi clusters emulates the glowing constellation of the stars in van Gogh’s masterpiece. Kher’s shiny surface filled with bindis is full of dynamism and movement, just like those signature swirling brushstrokes by van Gogh that exemplify the artist’s turbulent state-of-mind. This turbulence is perhaps a reflection of the artist’s negotiation of her position and the issues she presents in her work.
The social roles, traditional rituals, gender relationships and popular culture of India, both past and present are all scrutinized from Kher's unique vantage point. Born in London and trained in Newcastle, Kher is a rare reverse émigré who moved back to India from the United Kingdom. Questions of her own identity and her place as a successful female artist with a western upbringing in modern Indian society are inevitably entwined into her ethnographic observations of contemporary Indian life. Kher is acutely aware of these associations and plays on the pluralism of ancient Indian customs juxtaposed with modern Western values; it is the friction at the fault lines of these contradictions which are increasingly under stress from the fast pace of change and which Kher so observantly layers in her complex mirror work.
Bharti Kher’s appropriation of the bindi has promoted it to the status of icon, an instantly recognizable symbol of and for the artist. Through this process, Kher’s bindi has become a further symbol of the power of transformation, and can be found not only in her flatworks but also on the surfaces of her epic and dreamlike sculptures, murals and installations. “The detailed structure of the bindis leads us to a hyper-realistic world that soon becomes both magical, due to their vibrant colors and form, and realistic, through their sheer presence and sense of three-dimensionality.” (Z. Ardalan, Second Skin that Speaks the Truth, Parasol Unit, London, 2012, p. 15)