The Orientalist

2007
Bronze
177.8 x 83.8 x 104.1 cm

Huma Bhabha’s The Orientalist is both sci-fi and primeval and works to conceptualise ideas of difference, otherness and the complicated hegemony of exoticism. Cast in bronze Bhabha’s sculpture is suggestive of an ominous regal deity from an alien, past or future fictional kingdom. It’s title The Orientalist pays homage to the founder of postcolonial studies Edward Said, who is best known for his book Orientalism (1978). This was a ground-breaking critique of the cultural representations that are the bases of Orientalism – how the Western world perceives the Orient. It radically brought attention to how academics analyse and represent cultures under the veil of hegemonic western perception. With oversized hands and feet The Orientalist leans towards the cartoonish giving Bhabha’s idol a comically surreal and portentously intimidating air. Reminiscent of many bygone and current figures in power, whose policies threateningly verge on the brink of lunacy, The Orientalist oscillates between the ludicrous and the authentic and works to highlight the deceptive qualities of power. Imbued with the touch of the artist Bhabha skilfully reflects this trickery of power through her choice of materials. Originally fabricated in clay, chicken wire and Styrofoam for their malleable qualities The Orientalist is immortalised in bronze but retains evidence of these materials and process. This creates a fantastical, yet frighteningly topical, cyborg figure who analogises the precarity of humanity.

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About The Artist

Huma Bhabha creates sculptural assemblages out of a diverse range of materials such as Styrofoam, air-dried clay, wire, cork and scraps of construction material. By combining an eclectic range of cultural and historical references, such as the barren landscapes of Andrei Tarkovsky films and ancient Cambodian Temples, Bhabha creates work that is suggestive of a forsaken post-apocalyptic landscape. Similar to the power of science-fiction, Bhabha amalgamates these diverse sources in order to discuss an alternative time and place, which is impossible to place within our historical or cultural memory. There is a moving poetry to Bhabha’s work, achieved through her frequent decision to expose the armature of her sculpture. This choice renders the work seemingly unfinished creating an unnerving vulnerability and arresting sobriety to much of her work. This effect of alienation removes a singular identity and thereby creates a new suggestion of humanity that addresses our perpetual universal struggle with: war, history, human violence, colonialism and hegemonic struggle.

Huma Bhabha