The practice of inscribing a face with multiple meanings is also evident in Huma Bhabha's recent pastels of imaginary portraits which in their iconography hark back to and build on precisely her masks of the 1990s. These masks were technological portraits of archaic beings, constructed using papier mâché and found materials, including plastic cables and vacuum cleaners hoses, almost as remnants of special effects from science-fiction and horror films.
These sculptures did indeed constitute the first significant emergence of Bhabha's artistic personality, from which she slowly progressed to the architectural heads and figures that have characterized her more recent work, these too fashioned from found materials but with surfaces in painted clay, and in various states of deformation and fragmentation.
The drawings mark a return to an expressionistic mode of depiction of fantasmal faces; for them Huma Bhabha is again seeking inspiration from two very different sources, tribal art and science-fiction, combining them to arrive at a new kind of figuration. The artist constructs the human face as a site in which all the possibilities of the expressive can be played out: it's a story that started with German Expressionism, even earlier with Munch and Ensor, and to which Picasso and Bacon later contributed further iconic complexity. Bhabha has created, in her own words, a gallery of "Players ... masks for what kind of ritual? gathering? or tournament? Lions, warriors, clowns, monsters ... all mashed up into some kind of twenty-first-century synthetic plaster, mutated and reinvented as a new/old race."
Accompanying the exhibition is a catalogue published by Silvana Editoriale, with an essay by Mario Diacono. The volume also includes a text by the anthropologist Giancarlo Scoditti who explores the notion of the mask as an expressive form which in many tribal cultures can be related to a mental image that reveals itself in a ritual context: a subtle game of cross-references to something other than what is visible.
Private view (by invitation only): 11 February 2012, 6.00pm. The artist will be present.
12 February - 15 April 2012
The exhibition is free and can be visited during the normal opening hours of the Collezione Maramotti:
Thursday and Friday 2.30pm - 6.30pm
Saturday and Sunday 10.30am - 6.30pm