UK-born Indian sculptor Bharti Kher's celebrated sculpture The Skin Speaks a Language not its Own is one of the most iconic and talked-about works of art by a contemporary Indian artist and a one-of-a kind masterpiece from one of the leading female artists of her generation. Awe-inspiring in its scale, detail and beauty, this life-sized female Indian elephant was sold for a record Rs 7 crore last year; the highest ever for any female Indian artist.
Kher’s installation, a rather disturbing elephant lying prone, is a life-size installation made of little sperm shaped Indian bindis on fiberglass. The title, The Skin Speaks a Language Not Its Own, and the work itself is interpreted to represent India: combining two well-known Indian symbols of the elephant and the typical Hindu symbol of bindi and to ask the vital question whether the mammoth country will rise or drop under the weight of its own growth.
Kher took over 10 months to create every fold and recess of the sunken form, which is meticulously contoured by the intricately arranged patterns of thousands of bindis, organically swarm across the beast in a second skin. It is India’s identity in all its glorious complexities. The sculpture is a beacon of India’s avant garde art scene at the beginning of the 21st century. It is an icon of contemporary Indian culture and art that has found appeal with the wider international community of connoisseurs.
Despite our familiarity with elephants, nothing prepares the viewer for the emotional experience of seeing 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.
In The Skin Speaks a Language not its Own, Kher personifies this creature as the archetype of India, its culture, history and civilisation, and marries it with another metaphor of Indian ethnicity, the bindi, Kher’s signature motif. The bindi in India is traditionally associated with the Hindu symbol of the third eye that sees beyond the material world. 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.
A stunning work of art, the piece has found pride of place in a private museum collection.
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