Humaira Abid’s masterful illusions spotlight political realities

Carved-wood artist reaches new heights with powerful new Bellevue Arts Museum show.

The first thing that confronts you when you walk into Pakistani artist Humaira Abid’s compact, powerful new show at Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM) is a rusted barbed-wire fence with a pair of bloodstained panties hanging limply from it.

“Huh,” you may think. “So she has dropped her usual wood-sculpture wizardry for a found-materials installation.”

Not so.

Exhibition review

‘Humaira Abid: Searching for Home’

11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Free First Fridays, through March 25, 2018. Bellevue Arts Museum, 510 Bellevue Way N.E., Bellevue; $5-$12 (425-519-0770 or

The fence posts are scavenged cedar. But the barbed wire — stretching 7 feet high and 30 feet long — is, incredibly, carved mahogany. And the panties are carved pinewood.

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Abid’s work was a highlight of “Knock on Wood,” BAM’s 2014 survey of wood sculpture, and her exhibits at Seattle’s ArtXchange Gallery have repeatedly showcased her extraordinary command over her medium.

In BAM’s “Humaira Abid: Searching for Home,” however, the 40-year-old artist hits a new peak, combining technical prowess with fierce vision to produce charged political drama.

The seven pieces in “Searching for Home” respond in different ways to the multiple refugee crises of our times, especially as they affect women and children. They make it clear that while Abid is Seattle-based, she’s also a passionate global citizen.

“Borders and Boundaries” — as the barbed-wire piece is called — evokes refugee-camp confinement, of course. Another large installation, “Fragments of a Homeland Left Behind,” uses a plaster-treated surface to replicate a wall in a private home riddled with bullet holes. Five painful yet exquisite paintings of refugee children hang on it at crooked angles.

Abid is playing with Mogul miniature tradition in these paintings. “Mona, Age 5, Hassakeh, Syria” is especially arresting. The open gaze of its young subject, with her tangled hair and bruised lips, is both innocent and brutalized. Like its companion pieces, it’s based on an Associated Press photo. The whole exhibit is drawn from firsthand accounts of refugees who’ve settled in Seattle and Pakistan.

The title piece of the show is a pinewood installation consisting of three suitcases, a…

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