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confess is a large cubic room-like structure, almost eight foot tall, in dark wood with a door and windows. Its architectural detail is lightly ornate, with a regular pattern of holes at the top of its walls. The title of the work is suggestive of a private space, the confessional, but Kher has described the room as a bridal chamber. Its plain exterior contrasts dramatically with its interior, the entire surface of which is animated by vivid, whirling patterns constructed from countless bindis, the colourful forehead decoration worn by many women and girls in south and Southeast Asia. In contrast, the single lightbulb hanging from the ceiling is suggestive of prison cells, and the possibility of forced confessions.
Kher works across various media including sculpture, painting and photography. She explores issues around personal and social identity as well as Indian traditions. Kher has used the bindi as a central motif in several of her works. Traditionally a Hindu sign made with red pigment applied to the forehead to represent the ‘third eye’ or wisdom, the bindi has over recent years been transformed into a stick-on secular fashion accessory. The surfaces of Kher’s paintings and sculptures teem with thousands of bindis in dense, vibrantly colourful, swirling, abstract patterns. In her hands, the bindi becomes a stylistic and symbolic device, creating highly decorative surfaces and making allusion to the tensions and ambiguities inherent in changing definitions of femininity in contemporary India. Interviewed for an article in The Times of India, Kher discussed her use of the bindi, and in particular her use if it in confess:
I have been quite dogmatic about using it. But I feel that by the very act of repetition, I have made them my own language. I play with its form and content to create different layers of meaning. The bindi is not just a traditional symbol; it’s the third eye with which a woman sees the world. I am certainly not done experimenting with it. When I use them on the outside … they are like skin – an epidermal filter to transform objects. In my latest work, confess, I use them on the interior of the bride’s chamber. Here, the bindis function like text. These bindi covered walls have ears and they’re in a sense recording the secret confessions of the woman who resides in the room.
(http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/people/Yes-I-am-a-feminist-/articleshow/5731385.cms, paragraph 3, accessed 2 October 2010.)
confess was exhibited in Kher’s solo exhibition ‘inevitable, undeniable, necessary’ at Hauser & Wirth, London in 2010.
Bharti Kher, exhibition catalogue, Jack Shaiman Gallery, New York 2007.