New Yorkers get to see ‘The Mother’

Bharti Kher’s bronze installation ‘Ancestor’ is turning heads at Central Park

The ‘Ancestor’, an installation by Bharti Kher at Central Park, New York (IANS Photo)
The ‘Ancestor’, an installation by Bharti Kher at Central Park, New York (IANS Photo)


A bronze sculpture, 18 feet tall, made by Delhi-based artist Bharti Kher is greeting visitors at the southeast entrance to New York’s Central Park. The striking patinated sculpture, installed barely a week ago, will be there till August next year before moving to the UK and finally returning home in Delhi.

The installation, called Ancestor, near the Fifth Avenue will eventually return to Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi. The striking statue of a woman in a sari with a hand raised in blessing and as many as 23 ‘children’ emerging from her body like flowering buds on a tree has drawn attention of collectors and critics alike, evident in the number of notices, reviews and interviews published over the last one week.

This particular entrance to the Central Park is said to have hosted as many as 60 installations since 1977 when Public Art Fund was established in New York.

Kher’s ‘Ancestor’, with a cloaked child cowering behind her and the faces of other children growing from her powerful form, is seen as a mother figure, but one which Kher created in her own imagination. She describes the statue as a symbol of multiculturalism and interconnectedness, and the figure of the mother as a universal symbol of care, a source of creation, and a much-needed presence in public spaces.

“I invite viewers to leave their wishes, dreams and prayers with ‘Ancestor’; and to pass on their wisdom of living and love to the next generation,” Kher said in a statement. “She is the keeper of all memories and time. A vessel for you to travel into the future, a guide to search and honor our past histories, and a companion — in New York City.”

Kher hand-painted pigment and patina bronze on the ‘Ancestor’, giving the sculpture the appearance of old ceramic and suggesting that it has stood there for years.

But why a woman, a mother, must stand alone in a public place, Kher was asked. She possibly has seen many such women with children standing stoically at roadsides, vulnerable and waiting for food or alms at roadsides. But Kher’s mother figure exudes both power and wisdom.

“A Mother in a public space is so needed right now,” Kher told Art and Living in an emailed interview. “It’s a time when we require collective healing for so many things. The earth is asking us to take care for her; societies are becoming more and more divisive; tolerance and shared kinship with each other can be our common goal…humans believe they are the keepers of earth, but they are not. We are just visitors,” she added.

Ancestor proposes a genealogical, spiritual, and metaphysical inquiry into “who are we and where are we really going if we don’t learn from our past and create a shared space for us all. It’s an investigation into our relationship with progeny, self and memory and what this means in this world today,” she went on to explain.

‘Ancestor’ is one of Kher’s most ambitious works. The sculpture is part of the artist’s ongoing ‘Intermediaries’ series in which she reassembles small, broken clay figurines of humans, animals, and mythical beings. Ancestor is a resolutely feminine figure and the heads of her 23 children embody multiculturalism, pluralism, and interconnectedness. They celebrate the mother as a keeper of wisdom and an eternal source of creation and refuge.

“Ancestor is exactly the kind of monument we need in the 21st century,” said Public Art Fund Adjunct Curator Daniel S. Palmer. “It is a deeply personal expression of global identity that invites a dialogue about the importance of honouring our ancestors and fostering cultural exchange.”

In contrast to monuments that glorify historical figures and commemorate traditional symbols of authority, ‘Ancestor’ inhabits the public space as a powerful female force paying homage to the generations before and after her.

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