Huma Bhabha was born in 1962, in Karachi, Pakistan. They live in Poughkeepsie, New York. Their sculptures are made from tactile materials such as Styrofoam, air-dried clay, wire, cork and scraps of construction material. They are informed by a vast array of cultural references, from the cinematography of the 1979 sci-fi classic Stalker to the architecture of Cambodia’s ancient temples at Angkor Wat. Their works address what Bhabha describes as the ‘eternal concerns’ found in war, colonialism, displacement and memories of home.
There is something of an Upper Paleolithic fertility fetish/ c. 11th to 12th century exhibitionist Sheela na gig/ Greek kore/ Gandharan dancing figure/ Kurgan anthropomorphic stela/ figure from Giacometti’s Women of Venice/ monster from Jeepers Creepers/ being-not-yet-imagined-by-us that Huma Bhabha’s sculptures channel. Genealogically unrelated lookalikes – a case of pseudomorphosis – or the surviving afterlives of forms that have migrated across time and space, these works have chewed up and squashed together a bodily memory of times and places lived, unlived and not-yet-lived to be glimpsed and almost recognised by an age awash with omnipresent images. A corporeal Mnemosyne Atlas. There is no specific model, just faint recollections of something intuited once, and pinned down by equally slippery verbal references to Omar Khayyam and Haddaway.
These creatures take shape in wire mesh, clay, cork, and polystyrene foam. Lumped together into blocks and then hacked at from all sides to give rise to buttocks, thighs, stomachs, nipples and ambivalent, hollow-eyed, toothy expressions, they are then covered in acrylic paint, spray paint and oil stick. They profess a weight, a mass, a monumentality and an age belied by their substance. Polystyrene foam is the abundance of impossibly light, difficult to recycle shapes that squeeze in between the edges and the boxes of brand new kitchen appliances during transportation. Bhabha’s sculptural practice, which began in the 1990s in New York, after relocating from Pakistan, has been spurred by this detritus. Salvaged materials take on ambiguous forms and an uneasy appearance in their hands. What looks back with hollow eyes is an apocalyptic present of sorts built up from scraps of our own consumerism.
These roughly hewn columnar bodies poke fun at our own rigidly organised morphologies. Human, animal or alien? All of the above. Refusing firmly fixed categories of organisation, the bodies allow for the opposed to become co-existent. Future or past? Grotesque abject horror or a dose of cartoonish humour? Alive or dead? All of the above. Huma Bhabha’s works materialise with the weight of all these possibilities, references and memories. My mind wanders to golems made from clay and brought to life at the utterance of a word, to ’70s horror film zombies that now appear too kitsch to be truly frightening, and to that image of a vaguely remembered or an all-too-quickly forgotten form that sits somewhere just behind my retina. Perhaps it’s only accidental pseudomorphosis, but it carries the subversive potential to uproot and reshuffle the order of things in that moment when an uncanny resemblance flashes past.