3. Ancestor at Doris C. Freedman Plaza

In-process image of Ancestor by Bharti Kher. Photo by Chris Roque. Courtesy of the artist, UAP, Public Art Fund.

Gracing Central Park’s Doris C. Freedman Plaza this year is Ancestor, an 18-foot-tall patinated bronze sculpture created by New Delhi and London-based artist Bharti Kher. Ancestor is part of Kher’s ongoing Intermediaries series in which small, broken clay figurines of humans, animals, and mythical beings are reassembled into hybrid figures in defiance of fixed identity norms. The sculpture depicts a universally recognizable mother figure, allowing viewers to connect their experience viewing the artwork with their own cultural and personal pasts and futures. At the same time, the figure’s design is also culturally specific with the woman being draped in a sari with a small child hiding in its folds and hair in the style of a multi-lobbed bun with a braid.

Inspiration for the piece was drawn from the Indic and global traditions of creator deities that combine male and female into one single philosophical form — in direct contention with our current understanding of gender-based identities. At the same time, Ancestor is a feminine figure at heart, being adorned with the heads of 23 children as a representation of a mother’s role as a keeper of wisdom and eternal source of creation and refuge. “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,” artist Bharti Kher said. “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 — right here, right now — in New York City.”