Beyond the margins: challenging dominant ideologies of maps

June 13, 2018

Bharti Kher: Movements is a tool designed by DHC/ART Education to encourage visitors to develop and elaborate on some key concepts of the exhibition Bharti Kher: Points de départ, points qui lient.

Context: Postcolonialism

Far from neutral depictions of geographical areas, maps influence the way in which we perceive the world and point to dominant ideologies from the time of their production. In 1569, Gerard Mercator introduced a map projection that allowed him to represent the spherical shape of the Earth on a flat surface in a way that preserved the shape of continents at the expense of size distortion. Using a mathematical formula that stretched the latitudes towards the poles, the Mercator map made continents south of the Equator appear considerably smaller. [1] The map soon became the standard for nautical charts and played an important role in the European colonial project, by facilitating exploration, exploitation and settlement and contributing to the continuous subjugation of nations in the global South.

In Points de départ, points qui lient at DHC/ART, Bharti Kher uses a series of maps to address issues around history, migration, colonization, geodesy, nation-states and border politics. As she puts it: “I wanted to communicate the ideas of movement as people on this planet, both physically and conceptually; and what clearer metaphor than a map.” [2] Born in London to Indian parents, and then moving to New Delhi as a young adult, Kher understands the fluidity of identities and refuses to be defined by them. Indian, British, female, artist, insider, outsider—it is at the intersection of these and many more overlapping identities that lies her poetry. “Geography and history – doesn’t everyone have them?” [3] she asks. Yes, and no, her work seems to answer, offering us different accounts of the world.

In An Inveterate Habit of Elation 1 (2017), Kher carefully covers a North Sea map with layers of white, red, and blue round bindis of different textures in an almost Cartesian manner. Other maps with bindis, shown for the first time in this exhibition, range from the political map of an ancient continent to a map of USSR’s heavy industries, and also include maps of France, the Eastern Mediterranean, China and Japan. Here, Kher employs bindis of multiple colors, sizes and shapes—dots, sperm- shaped, arrows and swirls—in order to cross, blur, destabilize and write over borders. Points of departure V (2018) is covered by a circular grid with multiple sections that hides most of the map, while at the center of Points of departure IV (2018) is a big black swirl, hinting at the decentralization of power structures and the flux of people across the globe. In her  own bindi language, the artist expresses the complex ways in which economic and labour issues are intertwined with the dominant discourses around nation-states, contested borders and foreign intervention. “It seemed particularly relevant to use the bindis to both reveal and obscure the ‘truths’ of the maps. To enliven the surface and subsume meaning,” [4] Kher says.

Counter-mapping refers to a collaborative map-making process where communities appropriate maps as a state technology and create their own alternative versions. [5] By challenging dominant power structures, counter-maps are used as tools through which communities claim rights to land and natural resources. Consider some of the other uses of this mapping method. If you were to make your own, what shape would it take, what would you include and why?

Bharti Kher subverts narratives of neutrality and objectivity by including a plurality of voices in her works. What are some of the strategies she uses in Six Women (2013-2015) and Heroides (2016) to problematize questions around femininity?

Tanha Gomes
DHC/ART Education

[1] TOBLER, Waldo (2018). “A new companion for Mercator.” Cartography & Geographic Information Science, vol. 45, no. 3., pp. 284-285.
[2] KERSEY, Amanda (2015). “Art Up Close: Bharti Kher’s ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost.’” WGBW News. Online. Consulted April 3, 2018.
[3] SEN, Aveek (2012). “Fragments of a conversation with Bharti Kher.” Bharti Kher. Exhibition catalogue (Parasol Unit, September 14 to November 11, 2012). London: Parasol Unit, p. 54.
[4] KERSEY, Amanda (2015). Op. cit.
[5] MANOFF, Einat. (2014). “Destabilizing the Map through Critical Cartography and Resistance.” The People, Place, and Space Reader. Online. Consulted April 3, 2018.

Photo credit: Bharti Kher, Points of departure IV (detail), 2018.

#bharti kher
#dhc/art education
#tanha gomes