Best known for raw sculptures of fragmented bodies assembled from detritus and clay, Huma Bhabha makes mythological figures that mix Western and Eastern art, with dashes of science fiction. Tapped by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for its annual Roof Garden Commission, the Pakistani-born artist has created two monumental bronzes that construct an otherworldly narrative high above Central Park. Here, Bhabha shares the inspiration behind her rooftop installation.
How did you plan your project?
I had various ideas, but after visiting the Met a few times, I realized that I wanted to make the sculptures monumental, something I hadn’t been able to do previously. I settled on two large sculptures from the ones that I was considering and went from there.
Why did you decide to go monumental?
I wanted to take a theatrical approach to the roof garden and treat it like a gigantic pedestal for the sculptures. I think of them as actors on a stage, with a cinematic backdrop of the park and New York City. I’m also thinking of the roof as a landing pad, where the sculptures look as though they’ve just touched down from outer space.
Was the work influenced by anything in art history?
It’s more like a digested understanding of works that I like from art history. I take an intuitive approach where the work just comes together, even though I’m thinking about many things.
You have a 12-foot-tall standing figure that shares the show’s title, We Come in Peace. How are we supposed to interpret that?
The title is taken from science-fiction movies, a genre I’m fascinated with. The whole installation is called We Come in Peace because one of the sculptures is multiheaded; it’s not just one being, which is where the “we” in the title comes in. In sci-fi films, extraterrestrials use the phrase to make earthlings relax, so it’s also about how we respond to things that we don’t understand.
That multiheaded figure reminds me of Frankenstein’s monster. Is that how we’re supposed to see it?
In her catalog text, the curator describes the appearance of the figures as suggesting a sort of first-contact scenario. Considering the setting—the roof, the skyline and the sky above—you could imagine them as newly arrived aliens. They certainly don’t look human.
What sort of social and political concerns, if any, motivated this installation?
There’s nothing that you could call specific. As an artist, you don’t have the power to change much, but you can bear witness to your time. That’s all I’m willing to say because I don’t want to create any preconceived notions of what these pieces are about. It’s better that each viewer interprets the work in his or her own way.
Huma Bhabha’s “We Come in Peace” is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Tue 17–Oct 28 (metmuseum.org).