Saturday, November 1, 2014

INSPIRE ME! Anila Agha, Artist of 2014

Anila Agha working in her studio on Indianapolis near east side. 
 She works with paper, wood and wax to create interesting shapes and pattern.
The 2014 Alpha Omega Prize for Artist of the Year goes to Anila Quayyum Agha for her Islamic art installation, "Intersections." Since 2008, readers of Alpha Omega Arts have voted annually to honor one artist for their promotion of religious dialogue. Last month, Pakistani-born, Anila Agha, who now lives in Indianapolis also won the grand prize last month at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  The work reminds me of the cube-shaped Ka'aba, the holiest place in Islam, which will be washed from the inside by sacred waters this month of the Day of Ashura (Arabic: عاشورا). It is the intersection of her art, and this holy day ahead which makes her my INSPIRE ME! Artist of the Month.

Mel Jolliff, director of the Indiana Interchurch Center recounted that when A&O invited her to show during a 2013 invitational of artists under the theme "Religious Risk," she was reluctant. Her small version of intersections however was one of the most memorable parts of the group show featuring forty local artists. "Religion is not her style," said another artist participating in the show, "but she does religion so very well." Below is a sampling of some of interviews during the past year:
Anila Agah (third from right) with other Indiana artists in the 2013 invitational
1. Is Anila Agha a Muslim? "I don’t subscribe to any organized religion." (said artist Anila Quayyum Agha) "I believe in ethics, compassion, tolerance, and generosity. All are hallmarks for world religions." (
The object in the Basile Gallery is a smaller version of the larger design.
2. How does Agha describe her cubed artwork? "I used a 2012-13 New Frontier’s Research Grant from Indiana University for a large-scale installation project composed of patterned wood. With this project I explored intersections of culture and religion, the dynamics and interpretation of space and sight as it threaded through cultures and emerged as varied expressions that redefine themselves with the passage of time." (IUPUI Arts & Humanities Institute)
"Intersections" at ArtPrize 2014. Courtesy of the Grand Rapids Art Museum
3. Why have so many people been taken by her work? "Agha says that the project relies on the 'purity and inner symmetry of geometric design,' adding that viewers bring their own interpretations to the shadows. 'The form of the design and its layered, multidimensional variations will depend both on the space in which it is installed, the arrangement of the installation, and the various paths that individuals take while experiencing the space,' she writes." (
Anila Quayyum Agha / Intersections, detail / Courtesy of the Artist
4. Where does Agha find her inspiration? "My personal history and memories of growing up in Pakistan as a woman where cultural traditions and not common sense drive behavior patterns are a part of my narrative and thus a part of my art making process. 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, labour 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." (Islamic Arts Magazine)
Badshahi Mosque, Pakistan photo credit: AISA, Archivo Iconográfico, Barcelona, España
5.  How have the Islamic mosques of Pakistan influenced Agha's style/direction? "These mosques are so beautifully decked out," she says. "I felt, growing up, that I missed out on the local art repository as well as my ability to appreciate religion from a much closer more open way." (Blue Sky Window)
"My Forked Tongue" by Anila Agha
6. How does Agha's work promote dialogue? "The craft and labor intensive nature of this piece, both in the making and the installing of the work brings additional points to ponder such as craft versus high art, gender roles and the physicality of the human presence. There is a sense of sublimity associated with the seductive softness in the piece. So too, the space the installation occupies becomes part of the dialogue. The ability to cross barriers is restricted albeit softly, as the alphabet strings obstruct the pathway to go to the corner of the space, in turn suggesting the difficulty and restrictions faced in crossing boundaries between cultures and regions globally." (Archidesart)

Anila Quayyum Agha was also honored this past year as one of 40 Creative Renewal Arts Fellows by the Arts Council of Indianapolis, and she exhibited at the Arts Council in April with an installation show titled "Quicksand: Landscape of the Feminine: New Work by Anila Quayyum Agha." For more on Agha, we recommend visiting her squarespace page.