Bharti Kher was born in England in 1969, immigrating to New Delhi in the early 1990s at the cusp of the explosive globalization of India's economy. As an expatriate, she examines Indian culture from the 'outside looking in,' commenting on class, migration and everyday life.
Kher began working with bindis in 1995 after what she has described as a 'supernova' moment of revelation, she recontextualizes such mundane yet culturally-charged objects as the bindi, a dot commonly worn on the forehead by Indian women. Associated with marital rites, religious and cultural practice, the bindi has historically been in liquid pigment form, and applied to the face either by brush or hand. However, in recent decades it has been converted to a sticker form and increasingly used as an Indianizing fashion accessory in the West. By appropriating this image for the creation of an artwork, Kher comments on the mechanization and commercialization of an item once viewed as deeply traditional. Kher creates a paradox through creating this holistic image from a multiplicity of bindis, a symbol of tradition, modesty and spirituality. In projecting the bindi on such an elaborate scale, Kher privileges the questions of identity, gender and race within the globalizing environment.
Rugged Terrain, collates thousands of these bindis, applied in vast clusters with the help of Kher’s assistants, most of whom themselves have also migrated from other parts of India to New Delhi. The resulting aesthetic is an abstract image of constellation like swirling rhythmic flows. Rugged Terrain, as the title suggests, can also be seen as a map-like landscape. Instead of charting the physical or socio-political landscape, Kher creates a visual cartography of movement. These whirls of arrowed bindis can be seen to represent migratory flows of people, money, culture and information. In a world that adheres less and less to conventional understandings of borders, Kher’s grey and green arrow shaped bindis cross the painted shimmering silver background, representing the ultimate unified globalized world. Recently in July of 2015, Kher unveiled a façade installation at the Gardner Museum entitled, Not All Who Wander Are Lost, a work which directly addresses the same ideas in Rugged Terrain relating to the global diaspora and visually mapping migratory flows across borders.
Rugged Terrain subverts the bindi's original associations, deconstructing their religious context and creating an abstract work of aesthetic beauty and political resonance. Kher represents an exponentially growing world in constant flux where the constituent parts give way to a single living organic structure.