Visitors to decide if Met artwork Comes in Peace

POLITICAL: Huma Bhabha’s
statue at the Met museum
POLITICAL: Huma Bhabha’s statue at the Met museum

A PAKISTANI-American sculptor brings dark times, science fiction and a desire to provoke to New York’s famed Metropolitan Muse­um of Art for this year’s rooftop installation overlooking the Man­hattan skyline.

Huma Bhabha’s We Come in Peace depicts a towering 12-foot (3.6-metre), five-headed figure weighing 1.5 tons and an 18-foot long prostrate figure covered in a trash bag and called Benaam, or “without name” in Urdu.

The installation, which opened last Tuesday (17), is the sixth an­nual commission at the US mu­seum’s roof garden, a popular summer spot that draws nearly half a million visitors every year.

Karachi-born Bhabha, who lives in New York state’s Hudson Val­ley, is the first Pakistani American selected for the honour. Imran Qureshi, based in Pakistan, was the first Pakistani artist to present work for the commission, in 2013.

Bold, dramatic and thought-provoking, the weather-proof fig­ures in bronze have political un­dertones, reflect social concerns and reference ancient African and Indian sculpture, according to the Met.

“It’s what is brewing in your head,” Bhabha said, insisting that visitors should make their own interpretations. “I don’t want to necessarily say it’s this or that be­cause that closes the conversa­tion, but there are lots of different scenarios one can come up with.”

Nor does she join the chorus in Democrat-heavy New York that focuses blame on US president Donald Trump for what many in the city see as the country’s ills.

“It goes beyond Trump,” she said. “Yes, he has made every­thing very vulgar and very in your face. But there are problems that have been existing much before he took over. I think we’re in very dark times.”

The work was at least partly inspired by 1951 science-fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still in which an alien arrives on our planet telling humans they must live peacefully or face destruction.

“Huma’s work felt right for this particular moment,” explained Shanay Jhaveri, assistant curator of south Asian art.

“There are numerous levels of meaning embedded in them and I think we just wanted people to step back and to be provoked a little bit,” he said.

“There is politics in it. What is happening under that garbage bag?” Jhaveri said.

He urged viewers to “think through various kinds of concerns that they are seeing around them in these times of anxiety and par­anoia and danger and collapse.”

Bhabha specialises in figura­tive sculpture and has addressed themes such as colonialism, war and displacement in her work.

Her pieces have been exhibited at New York’s MoMA PS1 art insti­tution, as well as the Venice Bien­nale and the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, among others. The installation is scheduled to re­main open until October 28, weather permitting.