Thursday, December 20, 2012

‘Unnatural Histories’ by Huma Bhabha at MoMA

A new series of works, entitled ‘Unnatural Histories’, by Huma Bhabha at MoMA (the PS1), consists long-enduring forms drawn from the eerie ancient world, lending gravity to the throwaway materials, now rather commonplace in most contemporary sculptural pieces. The precariousness of assemblage & installation art perhaps haunts her totemic, monstrous figures, typically done from Styrofoam, clay, wood scraps, wire mesh and rubber; the juxtaposition, either way, is quite arresting.

Two sculptures in bronze flank the museum entrance. ‘God of Some Things’ includes a stylized figure. The other one, ‘Ghost of Humankindness’, shows a cracking clay mask and a blocky body of cast-packing materials. They together appear to bookend the figurative sculpture history.

Huma Bhabha, born in Pakistan, can be said to be a sort of late bloomer. The MOMA show is her first ever museum solo in New York, following a series of major group shows like the Gwangju Biennial (2008), Whitney Biennial (2010), and the Paris Triennial this year.

There are some 30 sculptures alongside 12 collage-drawings, which layer peculiar skeletal heads over mostly desolate-looking landscapes. The two-dimensional artworks incorporate photos of Karachi, her native city, as if giving the artist’s multifarious, polytheistic beings a defined feel of place. They also complement her sculptures in some other way, underlining the gestural glue, which closely holds them together.

The first artwork on display inside the gallery space is the sprawling title work specifically created for the exhibit. It’s a type of alien blob, having lopsided eyes and curious clay skin, seemingly oozing over a Styrofoam skeleton. It seems to be having swallowed, or maybe merged with, a human figure; standing just to one side of this sculpture, one can notice a photo-cutout of a ubiquitous man propped up right behind it. This rather strange life form has a long tail done out of a cut-up rubber tire.

Scale works to her advantage; the smaller head sculptures don’t really give the same impact, though they do play nicely with similar sized drawings. In her larger artworks, Humba Bhabha engages architecture - either by constructing the figure as if a kind of building or by referring to old palace and temple statuary.

‘Huma Bhabha: Unnatural Histories’ is on view until April 1, 2013 at MoMA PS1.

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