Sotheby's to auction Bharti Kher's iconic elephant

A cameraman films an iconic sculpture 'The Skin Speaks a Language not its Own' by Indian artist Bharti Kher on display at the auction house in London, Monday, May 24, 2010.   | Photo Credit: Sang Tan

British auction house Sotheby’s will June 28 offer on sale leading Indian contemporary artist Bharti Kher’s sculpture “The Skin Speaks a Language of Its Own”. The much talked about art work, which is in the form of a huge elephant, is said to be an archetype of India, its culture and history.

Ms. Kher lives and works out of the capital and this is the first time the work will be appearing at an auction since it was sculpted in 2006. The life-size Indian female elephant sculpture, which will be on sale at the Contemporary Art Evening Auction 2010, is estimated at 1 million British pounds, said a communique issued by the auction house Monday.

“The work took Bharti Kher 10 months to create. Every fold and recess of the sunken form is meticulously contoured by intricately arranged patterns of thousands of bindis that organically swarm across the beast in a second skin,” said James Sevier, director of the Sotheby’s Contemporary Art department.

Mr. Sevier described the sculpture “as India’s identity in all its glorious complexities and the sculpture remains a beacon of India’s avant garde art scene at the beginning of the 21st century”.

Said Zara Porter—Hill, head of Sotheby’s Indian Art Department: “Despite our familiarity with elephants, nothing prepares the viewer for the emotional experience of seeing Ms. Kher’s elephant, huge and incongruous in the gallery space. With her head resting on her front foot, she is brought down to our level and her glassy black eye entreats a communion and proximity rarely encountered in the wild.

“It is the most important work by this leading artist to appear on the auction market and will appeal not only to collectors of Indian Art, but also to the wider international community of connoisseurs of zeitgeist contemporary art.”

Porter—Hill added: “Sacred in Hindu mythology, Indian temples are ubiquitously adorned with stone carvings of the powerful, upright beasts that are worshipped in religious ceremonies. Throughout the ages, elephants have also been symbols of state power and royal authority in India...”

In the West, elephants have become a symbol of Indian culture. “In The Skin...”, Ms. Kher personifies this creature as the archetype of India, its culture, history and civilisation, and marries it with another identifier of Indian ethnicity, the bindi, Ms. Kher’s signature motif.

Ms. Kher was particularly attracted to the white, serpentine ‘bindi’ used in this work because of its “spermatozoa form and its oxymoronic relationship to the traditionally female accessory, striking deeper associations of gender roles and definitions of femininity in India”.

The catalogue introducing the sculpture said: “Kher plays on the pluralism of ancient Indian customs juxtaposed with modern Western values and as the inherent contradiction of the title ‘The Skin Speaks a Language...’ suggests, outward appearance and inner values do not always coalesce.

“The social roles, traditional rituals, gender relationships and popular culture of India past and present are all scrutinised from Kher’s unique trans-national vantage point.”

Born in London and trained in Newcastle, Ms. Kher moved to India in 1992 when she was 23.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 7:21:45 AM |

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