Mysterious Inner Worlds

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Installation view of "Mysterious Inner Worlds" at the UNM Art Museum in Spring 2022.

Mysterious Inner Worlds

A solo exhibition featuring Anila Quayyum Agha

Image above: Anila Quayyum Agha (American, b. Pakistan 1965). Intersections, 2014. Steel and halogen bulb, 78 x 78 x 78″. Courtesy of the artist and Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas. Photograph by Stefan Jennings Batista.

Mysterious Inner Worlds is the first solo exhibition in New Mexico featuring Anila Quayyum Agha. The exhibition features four sculptures activated by light, including the large-scale light installation titled Intersections (2014) and the debut of the sculpture Steel Garden (Red) (2021).

Agha combines forms from Islamic architecture with her own concepts about patterns of sacred and worldly spaces. Her work ranges in scale from monumental installations to intricate embroidered drawings. She is inspired by her personal experiences as a woman and an immigrant from Pakistan, arriving in the US just before September 2001, as well as her concerns about the environment. Agha’s work engages more broadly with the dynamic and contradictory relationships among immigrant experiences as well as the intersectionality of gender, religion, labor, and social codes.

Anila Quayyum Agha (American, b. Pakistan 1965). Intersections, 2014. Steel and halogen bulb, 78 x 78 x 78″. Courtesy of the artist and Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas. Photograph by Stefan Jennings Batista.

The centerpiece is the award-winning sculpture Intersections, a large steel cube pierced by geometric and floral patterns inspired by traditional Islamic architecture. Suspended from the ceiling and lit from within by a single light source, shadows are cast on the floor, ceiling and walls, as well as on the viewer, making every aspect of the UNM Art Museum’s Main Gallery a part of the artwork. The effect is lush, peaceful, and immersive. Coming out of Agha’s own experience in Pakistan where she was denied access to Islamic sacred spaces because of her gender, she has created a sanctuary that fosters feelings of belonging. The glowing light and ornate patterns are soothing, while the concepts behind the piece are challenging. With Intersections, Agha pushes against binaries of public versus private, religious versus secular, as well as inclusive versus exclusive. In 2014, Intersections won both the Public Vote and Juried Grand Prize at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, MI.

Mysterious Inner Worlds marks the debut of Steel Garden (Red). This sculpture features garden forms inspired by nineteenth-century textile and wallpaper designer William Morris, in laser-cut steel lit with multiple light sources to create a tangle of shadows. The bright red color provides a symbolic warning about the existential threat of environmental collapse.

Anila Quayyum Agha (American, b. Pakistan 1965). Captive Shadows II (Black and Purple), 2021. Encaustic, cut paper, embroidery and beads on paper, 30 x 30″. Courtesy of the artist and Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas. 

Agha, who studied textile design, treats drawings like textiles by embroidering paper with thread and beads sourced from her native Pakistan. Kaaba (Blue and Pink) and Circle the Kaaba (Silver/Gold), both made in 2021, reference the Kaaba – the square stone shrine at the center of the Great Mosque at Mecca. Captive Shadow II (Black and Purple)(2021), is made of cut paper, encaustic wax, embroidery and beads on paper. It is activated by light and shadow in a way that’s similar to her work in steel. These works, inspired by the memory of her mother’s quilting circles, reference women’s labor and the skill of immigrants who have traditionally been excluded from creative expression and undervalued in the artworld. These early experiences started Agha thinking about the plight of women and are the foundation of her feminism. The exhibition will feature seven of her mixed media drawings.

Anila Quayyum Agha was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan. She received her BFA from the National College of Arts in Lahore and her MFA from the University of North Texas. She is Associate Professor of Drawing at the Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University in Indianapolis and is currently the Morris Eminent Scholar in Art at Augusta University in Georgia. In 2021, she received the Smithsonian Fellowship in the Arts and will spend the summer of 2022 in Washington DC, conducting research for future projects. Agha’s work is in many private and public collections, including the Cincinnati Art Museum in Ohio and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA.

Mysterious Inner Worlds will be on view in the UNM Art Museum’s Main and Van Deren Coke Galleries from February 18, 2022 through July 2, 2022. Organized by the UNM Art Museum and curated by Mary Statzer, PhD, Curator of Prints and Photographs.