ABOUT THE EXHIBITION
NEW/NOW Anila Quayyum Agha: Illuminations
This October ushers in a dazzling, immersive NEW/NOW exhibition featuring the work of Anila Quayyum Agha (b. 1965), an internationally celebrated artist who explores the complexities and contradictions of her experience as a Pakistani immigrant to the United States through monumental installations and intimate paintings and drawings. This exhibition features her iconic light sculpture Intersections in concert with new paintings and works on paper.
Throughout her career, Agha has treated light and shadow as subjects that reference Islamic art and architecture and interrogate prescribed gender roles, ideas of home and belonging, and the intersections of identity and culture. Agha’s large-scale cube installations cast light and shadow across architectural spaces to immerse viewers in shared and inclusive experiences. The patterns Agha laser cuts into the lacquered-steel cubes are a reinterpretation of floral and geometric motifs found in Islamic art and architecture in Asia and Africa. Suspended and lit from within, the cubes cast elaborate floor-to-ceiling shadows that transform the surrounding environment, alluding to the richly ornamented public spaces such as mosques that Agha was excluded from as a female growing up in Lahore.
In addition to her suspended installations, Agha creates wall-mounted two-dimensional works that play with light, shadow, and pattern. Her recent work includes resin paintings in which Agha radically expands her use of color and explores pattern in new ways. She departs from her characteristic streamlined palettes in favor of vivid hues inspired by the high-contrast color combinations popular in South Asian and African textiles.
Since 2019, her work has been featured in thirteen solo museum exhibitions worldwide. Agha received a BFA from the National College of Arts, Lahore, and an MFA from the University of North Texas. She resides in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Augusta, Georgia, where she is a professor and the Eminent Morris Scholar of Fine Art at Augusta University. Major awards include the 2019 Painters and Sculptors Grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation and the 2021 SARF (Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship). In 2019, Agha’s work was included in She Persists at the Venice Biennale.
Having lived on the boundaries of different faiths such as Islam and Christianity, and in cultures like Pakistan and the USA, my art is deeply influenced by the simultaneous sense of alienation and transience that informs the migrant experience. This consciousness of knowing what is markedly different about the human experience also bears the gift of knowing its core commonalities and it is these tensions and contradictions that I try to embody in my artwork. Through the use of a variety of media, from large sculptural installations to embroidered drawings I explore the deeply entwined political relationships between gender, culture, religion, labor and social codes. In my work I have used combinations of textile processes such as embroidery, wax, dyes, and silk-screen printing along with sculptural methodologies to reveal and question the gendering of textile work as inherently domesticated and excluded from being considered an art form. My experiences in my native country and as an immigrant here in the United States are woven into my work of redefining and rewriting women’s handiwork as a poignant form of creative expression. Using embroidery as a drawing medium I reveal the multiple layers resulting from the interaction of concept and process and to bridge the gap between modern materials and historical patterns of traditional oppression and domestic servitude. The conceptual ambiguity of the resulting patterns, create an interactive experience in which the onlooker’s subjective experiences of alienation and belonging become part of the piece and its identity.