On the occasion of the exhibition The Company, currently showing at Gagosian Gallery in Rome, CURA. speaks with artist Huma Bhabha about her latest show, the processes and histories behind her work.
Your sculptures sit—or it would be more appropriate to say that they move at the threshold between a primitive past and a post-apocalyptic future. Throughout your work, several layers of juxtaposition and contrasts seem to emerge. Could you talk about the process that it’s at the base of your series and how are you developing your research?
HUMA BHABHA There is a mix of structural practicality in the construction of the sculptures and the residue of this process is an image or object that resonates between the extreme past and the future.
Masks have always been recurring elements within your work. Hybrids at the intersection between sci-fi alike characters and gods from ancient mythologies (latterly appropriated by Western culture to produce those same mainstream aliens and monsters), it feels as though they have been created to embody new totemic figures whose histories are yet to be defined. To what extent these sculptures challenge their cultural heritage and in which ways they relate to their geopolitical references?
HB An important aspect of the work is that there is no appropriation. There is a lot of time spent looking and digesting and then generating imagery that is relying on my imagination. I’m interested in breaking the corporate process of regurgitating nostalgia…constantly reproducing the same roster of characters eg. Star Wars, Marvel comics, etc.
Sallow clay, Styrofoam, bronze, toy dog bones, and rusted chairs are just some of the materials you have used to create your sculptures: an assemblage of both organic and inorganic, precious and discarded goods that melt together to mirror the pollution of both our natural and urban environments. In a moment where both chemical and material pollutions have infiltrated nature to its deepest core, which dialogues raise among these different materials, textures, and processes of working?
HB I started using these disparate materials out of economic necessity but I also began to get interested in how the natural and the synthetic work together and actually look really beautiful next to each other. I have always been struck at how much waste is produced in many western countries and inspired by how in Karachi where I grew up, everything is re-used. The recycling industry is very organized and begins with ‘kabaris’ who go door to door to buy trash.
Within the short story by Jorge Luis Borges The Lottery in Babylon (1941), from which the exhibition was partially inspired, the events are dictated by chance. What roles do fate and luck have within the narratives you build through your work?
HB Fate and luck have always been used in generating narratives and mythologies. Hopefully, my intuitive process generates feelings of fate and destiny in the reading of the sculptures.
Within The Company, the sculptures are positioned in a very specific, linear manner within the gallery, as to perform a procession of some kind. What does this cortège speak of, and how do you want for it to influence the perception of the works?
HB It was my decision to respond to the beautiful space in a very theatrical way and create an illusion of a vast landscape. The Company of personages is a caravan, a Fellini inspired procession, a family or a tribe, each character is an actor with something unique to offer walking across borders.
Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian
Photo by Rob McKeever