Huma Bhabha - Modern & Contemporary Art: Evening & Day Sale London Thursday, June 27, 2024 | Phillips
  • “[Bhabha’s sculptures] exist between things, and remain open to the unconscious, occupying a liminal space between ancient and nascent.”
    —David Levi Strauss

    Gazing out towards us, positioned on a wooden plinth at eye level, arms pressed to the chest in prayer, Baalbek is one of the layered and complex characters of Huma Bhabha’s universe, reinventing the aesthetics and origins of the contemporary figure. Reminiscent of the ancient Phoenician city and UNESCO World Heritage Site, once an important pilgrimage site for worshiping Baal, the god of fertility and weather, Baalbek is reimagined as a spiritual totem connecting past, present, and future and documenting a tale of deities, power, battles, destruction, and rebirth. Through her totemic figures, the Pakistani-American artist opens up a dialogue around the percieved binaries of inside and outside, global and local, ancient and modern, terrestial and heavenly, birth and death, the individual and the collective, mounting a provocative challenge to these rigid concepts and encouraging us to expand our thinking beyond these limitations. 


    Vasily Polenov, Baalbek. Ruins of Jupiter Cathedral and Cathedral of Sun, 1882.

    The Other


    Carved in cork, wood, and Styrofoam, and painted in acrylic paint and oil stick, Bhabha’s grotesque and raw sculptural figure ripens into a form of its own. Part deity, part animal, part human, and part monster, it exists on the margins of the social and scientific categories of gender, race, and beauty that define beings as we know them. Created three years after the artist's critically acclaimed and monumental installation We Come in Peace hosted by the Metropolitan Museum in New York, Baalbek, together with the rest of Huma Bhabha’s creatures, becomes the Other - that which is not like us, that which is outside, that which lives in abstraction. Otherness separates, divides, excludes; otherness carries vulnerability, estrangement, and alienation. As philosopher Simone de Beauvoir sustained, ‘Otherness is a basic category of human thought. Thus it is that no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself.’And yet, her cast of otherwordly beings invite contemplation, compelling us to look beyond what might be different and instead to embrace that which is kindred. 


    Through her practice, the artist queries a limited and nomic criteria, finding inspiration in art history and the classical tradition, but also in science fiction and horror movies, generating a new family of multi-dimensional and empowered ‘aliens’ that transcend space and time. Charred and scarred, they stand still and serene, as if they had returned from a post-apocalyptic reality to warn and guide us.

    Time and Decay

    “Sculpture, more than any other art form, is about time and history—the use of materials which can last for centuries [...] And now, in recent history there is an increased use of fragile, temporary materials that seem to reflect the speeding up of decay—the production of instant ruins.”
    —Huma Bhabha

    Sensorial and immersive, a distinctive, earthy aroma emanates from the sculpture as you approach, carved from cork and an array of recovered materials. Seemingly ponderous and sturdy, Baalbek has a lighter, more delicate quality upon closer inspection. The artist’s spontaneous and almost subconscious carving, etching, pinching, and scraping grants the sculpture its characteristic rough-textured surface and visceral physicality. Through the use of organic materials, paired with a rudimentary and unpolished technique, Bhabha plays with the natural and the fabricated, the ethereal and the perpetual. She draws a line between the ancient relics of millennia-old civilisations, and the ruins of our contemporary world in a dystopian and not-so-distant future: her sculptures embody the tale of humanity itself, filled with sequences of creation and destruction, of flourishment and disintegration, of individuality and collectiveness.


    Collector’s Digest


    • Huma Bhabha counts with a very strong institutional presence, with her work being exhibited at the ICA, Boston; MoMa PS1, New York; and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, among others.
    • The artist was selected to participate in the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015, and is currently featured in the notable group show Julie Mehretu. Ensemble at Palazzo Grassi, Venice, during the 60th Venice Biennale.
    • Her works are in the collections of renowned public and private institutions such as the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Tate Modern, London; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.



    i Simone de Beauvoir, quoted in Louise Aronson, ‘The Many Ways We Create the “Other”’, Literary Hub, 25 June 2019, online

    • Provenance

      David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles​
      Acquired from the above by the present owner



signed, titled and dated 'HUMA BHABHA 'BAALBEK' 2021' on the underside of the figure
cork, Styrofoam, cardboard, acrylic and oilstick on wood, on artist's plinth
figure: 81 x 41.3 x 40.5 cm (31 7/8 x 16 1/4 x 15 7/8 in.)
overall:162.9 x 61.1 x 61.1 cm (64 1/8 x 24 x 24 in.)

Executed in 2021.

Full Cataloguing

£120,000 - 150,000 

Sold for £133,350

Contact Specialist

Louise Simpson
Associate Specialist
+44 7887 473 568

Modern & Contemporary Art: Evening & Day Sale

London Auction 27 June 2024