Draped in a sari, an Indo-British artist’s sculpture in New York’s Central Park celebrates the ‘universal mother’


New Delhi: Entering New York’s Central Park from its southeast entrance, one is greeted by a curious sculpture of a woman draped in a sari, her torso covered with the heads of children. The 18-foot tall sculpture, titled ‘Ancestor’, was created by renowned British-Indian sculptor Bharti Kher and was unveiled at the park on September 8.

Commissioned by the Public Art Fund of New York, it is part of the collection of the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in Delhi and will eventually be housed at the museum.

In a statement, the Public Art Fund called the creation “[Kher’s] most ambitious work to date. The ancestors is part of the artist’s ongoing series ‘Intermediates’ in which she reassembles small, shattered clay figurines of humans, animals and mythical beings into hybrid figures that challenge a particular, fixed identity.

Ancestor portrays a “universal mother figure connecting our cultural and personal pasts and futures,” according to the Public Art Fund release. “This embodies the complexity and potential of Indian and global ‘intermediaries’ and traditions of creator deities who challenge identities by bringing male and female together into one philosophical form”

The patinated bronze sculpture of this nebulous ancestor is composed, among other things, of the heads of 23 children joined together and extending from his body, embodying “multiculturalism, pluralism and interdependence”.

“A mother figure is so needed now in this time of deep polarity and instability. The female body is still a contested political site both here in America where she stands and at home in India where the female body is too often a site for a patriarchal posture that does not protect.Kher wrote on his Instagram page after the unveiling, sharing an image of the sculpture.

“Ancestor is there to remind us that we are linked like links in a chain to each other and to her. We are all family at the end of the day, we are his children. Every living being is equal; This is something worth remembering,” she added in the Instagram post.

Ancestor will be on view through August 27, 2023 at Doris C. Freedman Plaza, Central Park.

“I invite viewers to leave their wishes, dreams and prayers with Ancestor; and pass on their life wisdom and love to the next generation,” Kher said in the Public Art Fund statement. “She is the keeper of all memories and time. A vessel for you to travel into the future, a guide to research and honor our past stories, and a companion – right here, right now – in New York.

Kher was born in London in 1969 and has lived in New Delhi since 1993. She has worked in painting, sculpture and installation for over two decades. She has organized exhibitions all over the world, including in Ireland, Canada, China, Japan, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. His works are part of collections in London, Queensland, New Delhi, Minneapolis, Seoul, Korea, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, among others. Kher works in both New Delhi and London.

In 2015, she was named Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France’s highest cultural distinction. She also received the Sanskriti Award from the Sanskriti Foundation in 2003

(Editing by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

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