Thursday, December 20, 2012

Using found materials to build monuments to human life

Huma Bhabha (American, originally from Karachi) is known for her engagement with the human figure and for her usage of found materials, working primarily in sculpture. Often tending towards the grotesque, her sculptural works and photo-based drawings feature bodies that appear dissected and dismembered.

One can likewise view them as monuments to human life reclaimed from the detritus of a post-apocalyptic landscape. Incorporating materials like Styrofoam, animal bones and clay, the artist creates figures that feel unstable and ephemeral. Insistently contemporary, they nevertheless recall classical figurative traditions across a range of cultures and historical periods, typifying a strand of neo-primitivism that has arisen in the past decade.

The curator, Peter Eleey, mentions in an introduction to the solo that Huma Bhabha’s sculptures ‘may appear bound to a distant past, while also seeming to arrive from the decaying ruins of some future civilization’. Specific poses/pieces here suggest Greek kouroi, African sculptures, Easter Island heads and Egyptian statues, apart from the reworkings of these forms by many modern artists like Giacometti and Picasso.

According to the curator, the hybrid Greek-Buddhist figures from ancient Gandhara (now northern Pakistan) — a reference that seems especially germane given her background (the artist immigrated to the US in the 1980s), and especially potent with a show of sculpture from Gandhara fresh in memory.

The side galleries of MOMA hold smaller recent artworks. The earliest one from 2005 exudes a more classical approach to the human figure. For example, Sleeper’ shows a man with curly beard who wouldn’t  look out of place in Greek & Roman Galleries of the Met had the same been shaped out of marble instead of Styrofoam topped up with clay.

Karen Rosenberg of The New York Times mentions in an essay that what you see, here and throughout the show, are not just romantic ruins or contextless fragments; Ms. Bhabha has a raw and sometimes violent approach to sculpture that feels very contemporary but makes you think about the way we excavate and display the art of past civilizations, the columnist concludes.

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