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Artist Profile2
Bari Kumar’s creations reflect his bicultural experiences
Bari Kumar’s work is largely about the constant clash of several contrasting cultures. Simultaneously, he destabilizes what was once termed identity politics by making his own position all but ‘un-locatable’. This facet is evident in his old-masterish paintings, reminiscent of the European Renaissance, albeit alluding to beliefs and iconography of Hindus.

Turning his stylistic process even more complex is his combining of Eastern symbolism and spirituality with Western politics and proclivities. He looks to employ ancient and contemporary motifs, and weave a profound and rather hard-hitting depiction of modern life deftly built around the turbulent intersection of art history and persistent propaganda, he tries to unravel.

A hallmark of his art has been the mix of expansive internationalism and art historical modernity, for which he has received critical acclaim. His works become distinct for their fusing of techniques associated with Old Master paintings and content reflecting the contemporary situation of intense cultural hybridization. He sources imagery from diverse cultures and combines it with cryptic phrases in different languages, to conceive puzzle-like pictures - both nebulous and overtly loaded with meanings. They often address social conflicts and religious schisms.

Bari Kumar, born in 1966 in Vakadu, Andhra Pradesh, studied at the Rishi Valley School, founded by philosopher J. Krishnamurti. He moved to Los Angeles and studied graphic design at Otis/Parsons School of Design. His creations reflect his bicultural experiences, and his stretched affinity to two diverse cultures that simultaneously influence and inform his work. The works are a personal statement on a life swinging between two different pendulums, both internally complex. In a way, it’s a reflection on his divided state of being.

His selected shows have been hosted at Bose Pacia, Kolkata (2008); Bose Pacia, New York (2007, 04); Grosvenor Vadehra, London (2008); Jehangir Nicolson Gallery, Mumbai (2006); and Billy Shire Fine Arts, Los Angeles (2005) among others. His significant participations include the Sydney Biennale 2008; ‘Fatal Love’, the Queens Museum, New York City (2005); ‘Unfamiliar Territory’, the San Jose Museum, California (2003); and ‘Shifting Perceptions’, Pacific Asia Museum of Pasadena, California (2001). The latest edition of Art Dubai also featured his work.

His art has witnessed interesting twists and turns over the years starting from his 2001 show at Bose Pacia to his recent ‘Foreign Bodies’. A noteworthy feature of his earlier series was techniques associated with the Italian Renaissance, 19th Century Romanticism, American Neo-Expressionism and linguistic devices prominent within post-conceptual art practice, as the curatorial note pointed out.

On the eve of another major show, entitled ‘Acceptance of Denial’, at Bose Pacia, the artist mentioned his work was an extension of the intricate dialogue of street art. The New York Times art critic, Holland Cotter, had analyzed his work as follows: “Bari Kumar, born in India has lived in Los Angeles since his teens, and his work is clearly about the clash of several cultures - including that of Latino Southern California - in his own history.

The resultant web of apparently free-floating cultural fragments can be hard to read and sometimes feels inorganically pieced together. But he's dealing with difficult material and doing so in intriguing ways. With their no-frills realist style and theatrical air, his paintings have the graphic pull of film posters, although the films advertised seem composed entirely of symbols.”

In this particular show, one painting had a nearly nude male figure floated on a green field - clearly based on Renaissance pictures of the crucified Jesus but with black skin and the four arms of a Hindu god and his head missing. In other pictures hermaphroditic bodies emerged, half-visible, through pixel patterns, accompanied by tantric symbols and text in Roman and Indian scripts.

Bari Kumar's work tends to operate at the intersection of knowledge and obscurity. As an artist whose creative vocabulary is derivative of placing oneself within multiple communities, he is drawn to exploring the multiplicity of visual culture. He offers characters, scenarios, and clues in the form of stylistic devices, stacking order and symbols and simultaneously sets in play the quirky, Derrida-like, multiplicity of meaning bound to complicate communication attempts.

The artist’s work is linked to the contemporary dialogue of agency and censorship. His intense mediation of this interchange results into profound moments of the visual representation of a confused global psyche.