“Huma Bhabha’s We Come in Peace borrows its title from the classic American science-fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), a tale of first contact between humans and aliens. Its two huge sculptures—the five-headed We Come in Peace and the prostrate Benaam (an Urdu word that translates as “without name”)—have landed on The Met’s Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden for this year’s commission as works dislocated from time. Choreographing a dramatic mise-en-scène, the artist has positioned the figures like actors on a film set, hoping to elicit an array of narratives.
Throughout her practice, Bhabha has proposed the body as a site of exchange. The figures here communicate notions of pain and survival: they can be read as both aching and defiant, in agony and unassailable, subjugated and valiant. Bhabha’s work has always had a political exigency and a responsiveness to social concerns; We Come in Peace is no exception. It is also a project in dialogue with art history, reflecting Bhabha’s interest in art across time and geography. In these sculptures, one might find references to works that range from ancient African and Indian sculpture to modern creations.
Initially handcrafted to scale by the artist from ephemeral materials, such as cork, Styrofoam, air-dried clay, and plastic, the sculptures were then cast in bronze. As a result, Bhabha has fashioned not simply monumental forms but monuments. They retain the look of their original materials but now endure, their distressed, afflicted bodies speaking the common language of life’s precariousness, but also of survival.” — Introductory Wall Text
The Roof Garden Commission: Huma Bhabha, We Come in Peace was conceived by the artist in consultation with Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of Modern and Contemporary Art, and Shanay Jhaveri, Assistant Curator of South Asian Art, both of The Met’s Department of Modern and Contemporary Art. It is the sixth in a series of site-specific commissions for the outdoor space.
Images courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art.