The Hayward Gallery at London’s Southbank Centre has been taken over by an exploration of the human form in sculpture until September 7th. The exhibition, The Human Factor, features, among many other exciting works, pieces by a female artist that particularly got to me—Huma Bhabha. A Pakistani-born artist who went to art school in the US, Bhabha works with modest materials like styrofoam and foraged wood to create sculptures that sit somewhere between organic forms and architectural structures.
Her work is thrilling because you can see how the landscapes of Karachi and New York (two places she has spent extended amounts of time in) merge together to create interesting human figures. Bhabha has described Karachi as a place that seems to be permanently under construction; a family will build a mansion but leave all of the waste material outside, thus generating this feeling of things never quite being finished. Of New York she says it is constantly being built up with no regard for lasting materials; just to get things up quick and cheap until they have to be changed all over again.
This leaves us with an aesthetic that a lot of people have described as post-apocalyptic. You can see the construction of Bhabha’s sculpture, exposing the inner workings of the figure. There is a tragedy in these structures, which portray an idea of decay but one that doesn’t take away from their beauty.
Her pieces at The Human Factor are “The Orientalist” and “Bourne Darkly.” Both have a recycled material look that is quite popular in modern sculpture. The idea of using things from the scrapheap to create something beautiful and affecting appeals to a lot of us. The sculptures look both like they are still under construction and are being deconstructed at the same time. “Bourne Darkly”, for instance, has that burned wood look to it that leaves you unsure if it is a symbol of something old and tribal or of something to come.
I’m no art genius. I love art. I go see art. But I do find there are a lot of things that I do not understand and that therefore have little effect on me. Bhabha’s work made sense to me as soon as I saw it, further sense after reading about each piece, and even further sense after I researched her. This is the art I like. Art that can speak to me without me having to understand it necessarily but from which I can get more if so I choose.
So, if you’re in London, get yourself to the Hayward before it’s too late—the entire exhibition is incredibly interesting in its intent to explore the human figure in the medium of sculpture. If you live further afield, you can find Bhabha’s work in The Netherlands at the Grimm Gallery, as well as often popping up at art festivals and in New York galleries.