New York-based Pakistani artist Huma Bhabha combines figuration with abstract elements in sculpture, works on paper, and collages. With a distinct post-apocalyptic aesthetic and dark theatricality reflecting sci-fi films, her artworks explore colonialism, war, trauma, and displacement. The artist lives and works out of Poughkeepsie, New York.Read More
Bhabha's sculptures—the core of her practice—are jarring assemblages comprised of carved Styrofoam, cork, air-dried clay, wire, found wood, metal scrap, and other discarded materials. She combines these to create monstrous abstracted figures, referencing imagery that ranges from ancient architecture and cultural traditions to popular science fiction. Figures such as Centaur (2000), which merges ancient mythological imagery with modern hooded youth, seem to appear from a distant place where past and present collide. Painted monolithic, multi-headed creatures—like Four Nights of a Dreamer (2018)—make less obvious reference to the materials they are made from than her earlier works. Through her dark, grotesque, and abstract alien-like figures, the artist challenges the viewer's perception of objects and people beyond our immediate realm of understanding—whether in a colonial past or today.
Some, but not all, of Bhabha's sculptures remain in a fragile form, consisting of degradable materials. The two large works in We Come in Peace—the Roof Garden Commission for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2018—are bronzes painted to appear as if they were made from the original pre-casting materials. The prostrate figure, Benaam (2018), appears to be made of clay and plastic, implying a fragility while also withstanding the ages.
While Bhabha paints her sculptures—often in colours one might expect from graffiti—she also produces similarly hued works on paper. The artist also makes collages by working on photographs taken by herself. She draws and paints expressively over the image, creating unusual abstract yet figurative compositions, like the alien face in Untitled (2019). This aspect of her practice has developed since the mid-2000s, with the added layers becoming thicker and more elaborate.
Born in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1962 Bhabha came to the United States in 1981 to study art, graduating with a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, in 1985, and followed by an MFA at Columbia University, New York, in 1989. Her artwork has appeared in solo and group exhibitions across the United States and Europe. She has been included in biennials such as the Biennale Internazionale di Scultura di Carrara (2010), the Whitney Biennial in New York (2010), and the Venice Biennale (2015). Since 2013, her works have been shown at Art Basel on multiple occasions. Her art also features in prominent public collections such as those of the Centre Pompidou, Tate, and New York's Museum of Modern Art.
Ocula | 2019