Mothers. I had one. I am one, so the subject is not unfamiliar to me. But the 18-foot-tall monument to mothers called “Ancestor,” newly installed at the south entrance to Central Park in New York, appears so alien that it borders on extraterrestrial. You half expect little green men to come running out of it.

I’ll go further. “Ancestor” strikes me as macabre as Louise Bourgeois’ 30-foot tall sculpture of a black spider titled “Mama” at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

Press photos of “Ancestor” flooding my desk show a female figure with disembodied heads of 23 children protruding from her body like tumors.

It’s a ghastly sight, but not according to other art writers.

Hyperallergic Magazine sees the jutting heads as “flowering buds on a tree.” And ArtDaily not only describes the woman as “adorned” with these heads, but also contends they “manifest a sense of belonging and celebrate the mother as a keeper of wisdom and the eternal source of creation and refuge.”

Wait, there’s more. Hyperallergic also sees this mass of bodiless heads one on top of the other as a sign of “interconnectedness.” Which is a little like saying that the Medusa in Greek mythology crawling with living snakes in place of her hair is about “interconnectedness.”

There’s interconnectedness and then there’s suffocating togetherness.

The mishmash of nearly two dozen human heads sticking this way and that out of this woman’s body is Medusa hair incarnate.

I’m clearly alone with my reaction to this sculpture. Daniel S. Palmer, curator of the Public Art Fund, went so far as to tell the press that the sculpture is “exactly the kind of monument we need in the 21st century.”

Pick, pick, pick

I grant you it’s easy to take pot shots from my perch in the peanut gallery.

I haven’t seen this work in situ, just in a series of about a dozen photos from different angles. This includes a profile view showing a full-length figure of a robed child clinging anxiously to the back of the mother.

If I’m reading the photos all wrong, if there aren’t a mass of children’s heads protruding from the female figure, or if a child isn’t cowering behind her, I take it all back and chalk it up to an overactive imagination.

But the artist’s own words deny nothing. In her remarks to ArtDaily, Bharti Kher accounted for the multiple heads coming out of the female this way:

“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.”

It was only at this point, reading Bharti Kher’s words did it hit me that she was reflecting Hinduism. Indian artists often depict Deities with multiple body parts, such as heads and arms to convey the power of Gods and Goddesses.

What’s threw me off, I think, is that the multiple heads in “Ancestor” extends from the female’s torso – chest, ribs, trunk – rather than her neck, and they’re children’s heads.

Even so, to Bharti Kher my sincerest apologies for what surely must seem like religious bigotry. I should have spotted the Hindu influence. That said, I don’t take back a word. Here’s why:

Looking at what artists do should not rely on what they say they do. Without Bharti Kher’s explanation, passersby in the park may well react to her sculpture the way I did.

The silent witness

So, I’m left with this question: when choosing this work for display, did the Public Art Fund forget that visual art is a picture without words?