From the Gallery 350 exhibition. 'hold' ends on 20 December 23.
Aishath Huda’s works at the Gallery 350 have no inscriptions – they are strange, abstract pieces in monochrome, the only colour coming through is rust. Your eyes search for something to latch on to, and you find them. The faces.
These are equally alien but eerily familiar, and as humans we are drawn to them – we are made to see and recognise faces, even where there aren’t any.
But Huda’s works bear only that familiar shape, the rest seem a far cry from a human’s face – visitors have likened them to animals, with one calling them ‘interesting but creepy.’
There is no denying the uncanniness of these faces – the artist reveals that they were shaped by her encounters with people in public spaces, particularly on public transport.
“I did not try to capture a face as it was, but rather something like their psyche,” she says.
It is worth noting that unlike artists who paint their loved ones or friends, she found inspiration in the unfamiliar.
“It’s like their faces are shaped by my encounter, which is affected by the strangeness of the context, this new city, its culture and people,” she adds.
Chicago is where the artist conducted most of these experiments. It’s a liberal metropolis, but one locked in by conservative states. And yet, the machinery of the city which runs, like any great American city, on the wheels of capitalism, produces the excess, the waste, decay, and degeneration typical of such unbridled ‘economic freedom.’
“My interest in capturing these faces drew me closer to them,” she says. “I remember who they are, where I met them.”
For Huda, it seems these encounters individuated and humanised those forced to survive on the fringes of the System.
And against the capitalist interests that fetishise time for the sake of efficiency, Huda introduces ‘water-time’. In her installation that documents a melting ice block for instance, you learn that it is part science, part imagination. She sets up the parameters, the materials, and lets the ice ‘talk back’ to her. The ice block is frozen time, and she documents its gradual change in form. She attempts to do the impossible – to understand the ‘being’ of water, as it moves through its forms, from its perspective.
This takes an imaginative leap – and we are compelled to question why. Why is this necessary to understand something whose structure and movements are already disclosed by science?
It comes back to Huda’s interest in the medium when she practised traditional Chinese painting in Hangzhou, China. Much was said about the ink and the brush strokes, but what about the water when its inclinations and movements left their mark on and shaped the final work?
So, this marginalised body took her interest. She observed how water reacted to her brush strokes, to objects. She played with it until she came to an understanding.
This understanding is apparent in and crucial to coming to terms with her experiments. Water, for her, is the architect. Water has a ‘will’. She can guide it by setting constraints, and that is her input to these ‘conversations with water’. But water responds as it will, in its own time.
Now the results become something else, this background knowledge changes perception – what seemed at a point a random array of abstracts gains a new significance. They reveal the agency of something often overlooked in art. The late great Bruce Lee once said, ‘be water, my friend.’ Huda has done, and arguably very successfully, just that.