Huma Bhabha

b. 1962

New York-based artist Huma Bhabha was born in Karachi, Pakistan who combines figuration and abstraction in her sculptures and installatons.  She is known for her sculptures of grotesque, figurative forms as well as pastel drawings and photographs which are combined with her installations. She works with unlikely materials such as Styrofoam, wood, wire, and clay.  With the exception of Styrofoam, these materials are the ones used in traditional bronze casting 

Bhabha was encouraged to pursue art by her mother as a young student in Egypt.  She received her B.F.A. at the Rhode Island School of Designing 1985 and her M.F.A. from Columbia University in 1989.  Interestingly she never studied sculpture in art school and learned by trial and error herself.  

Early in her career from 1994-1996 she made masks. She bought cheap plastic masks and used them as armatures for elaborate mask sculptures, adding paper mache and found objects.   She also made venomously colored drawings of mask like visages and photographs of empty landscapes, many shot in Pakistan.  

Bhabha’s work is eclectic with rugged styles of figurative sculpture ranging from classical and African sculpture to horror films.  Her works combine austere modernist forms with eerie, futuristic imagery of science fiction.  In 2006, Bhabha turned traditional bronze-making on its head.  Her sculpture “A.B.” is actually a cast and painted bronze.  However, its surface looks like clay.  This work’s painted bronze surface shows the rough-worked clamminess of clay as it questions the conventional values of ‘high’ and ‘low’ art.

In 2010, she made a semi-figurative sculpture, “Untitled,” out of cork, wood, and acrylic paint.  Again the roughness of its form suggests a totemic sculpture of modernist abstraction. Her “Unnatural Histories” shows an alien-like figure with lopsided eyes and was created for her first solo show at New York’s MoMA PS1 in 2012.  

Bhabha’’s  2018 bronze sculpture “We Come in Peace” was commissioned for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s rooftop terrace.  This installation takes its title from the 1951 movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” It consists of two pieces.  The first is a 12-foot-tall standing figure, whose surface is scratched and gouged and whose head has four faces.  The second piece, titled “Benaam,” an Urdu word meaning ‘unnamed’, is an 18-foot-long figure, lying prostrate before the first figure and is covered by a black plastic tarp. Both figures were sculpted in cork and Styrofoam before being cast in bronze.  Commanding in presence, it is as if the sculptures are beckoning to one another. 

In 2013, Bhabha received the Berlin Prize Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin.  She participated in the nice Biennale in 2015 and in 2016 was honored by MoMA New York.  Her largest survey exhibition to date is at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston and runs from March through the end of May, 2019.

Her work is in the permanent collections of the Bronx Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, New York’s MoMA, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Centre Georges Pompidou, and Whitney Museum.

More here.

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