Originally from Lahore, Pakistan, the Indianapolis-based artist and educator Anila Quayyum Agha recently created the intricate installation Intersections: a richly detailed, laser-cut wooden cube that, when suspended, creates kaleidoscopic shadows on the walls of the display space. The inspiration for the piece came to Agha on a recent trip to the mosques in Alhambra, Spain. While women were excluded from the mosques and required to pray at home during her upbringing in Pakistan, in Spain she was able to appreciate the beauty of the geometric motifs that decorate the holy temples, as well as think about the mosques as a place of cross-cultural dialogue in Moorish Spain. While the patterning of the piece might be familiar to viewers from Islamic cultures, Agha explained that she took them out of their context to spark a conversation about the ambiguities and contradictions within a multi-cultural exchange.
“In excavating these motifs from the everyday and the humdrum, I also intend to elevate and anoint them as expressions of the ordinary that when attended to and explored, reveal the complexities of symbiosis between cultures and civilizations and the amorphous borders between them,” wrote Agha in her statement for the piece. “In a contextual milieu where difference and divergence dominate most conversations about the intersection of civilization, this piece explores the presence of harmonies that do not ignore the shadows, ambiguities and dark spaces between them but rather explore them in novel and unexpected ways.”
While Agha’s work is captivating on a visual level, each piece has a complex conceptual backing. Her earlier work My Forked Tongue shares a similar focus on cultural plurality. For this piece, Agha cut paper letters from the English, Urdu and Hindi alphabets by hand and suspended them in a hanging arrangement of forms that become abstracted as they cast shadows on the walls. As the letters become increasingly ambiguous, they prompt the viewers to think about the universality of language and the common ground between cultures.