A Pakistani-American artist brings politics to a New York museum rooftop
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” is a 3.6-metre-tall, five-headed figure weighing 1.5 tonnes alongside an even more gargantuan prostrate figure covered in a trash bag and called Benaam, which means “without name” in Urdu.
The installation unveiled on Tuesday is the sixth annual commission for the illustrious 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 weatherproof figures cast in bronze have political undertones, reflect social concerns and reference ancient African and Indian sculpture, according to the Met.
Huma Bhabha rejects the common interpretation that “We Come in Peace”, newly unveiled at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, refers to Donald Trump. /AFP
“It’s what’s brewing in your head,” says Bhabha, insisting visitors should form 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 that 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,” Bhabha says. “Yes, he’s made everything very vulgar and very in your face. But I think 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 the 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,” explains 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.
“There is politics in it. What is happening under that garbage bag? What is the form?” Jhaveri says.
He urges viewers to “think through various kinds of concerns 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 work has been exhibited at New York’s MoMA PS1, as well as the Venice Biennale and the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, among others.
The installation will remain open until October 28, weather permitting.