Opening February 18, the University of New Mexico Museum of Art hosts Mysterious Inner Worlds, the first solo exhibition in New Mexico featuring Anila Quayyum Agha. Highlights include the large-scale light installation titled Intersections (2014) and the beginnings of sculpture Steel Garden (Red) (2021).
“Mysterious Inner Worlds is a continuation of our efforts to showcase diverse artists,” said Mary Statzer, curator of prints and photographs at the museum, who organized and curated the event. “To my knowledge, this is the first time the work of a Pakistani-American woman has been featured on the UNM campus. The work is beautiful and promotes kindness, empathy and inclusion, which also seems important.
The artist will talk about his life and work in A conversation with Anila Quayyum Agha with Statzer on Thursday, March 24.
“Agha immigrated from Pakistan to the United States shortly after 9/11. She speaks from first-hand experience of the challenges of immigration in her work and when speaking about her life. We believe this content will be interesting and relevant to UNM students who form our primary audience,” she continued.
Agha combines forms of Islamic architecture with its own concepts on models of sacred and worldly spaces. Her work ranges from monumental installations to intricate embroidered designs. She draws on her personal experiences as a woman and an immigrant from Pakistan, who arrived in the United States just before September 2001, as well as her concerns about the environment. Agha’s work more broadly addresses the dynamic and contradictory relationships between immigrant experiences as well as the intersectionality of gender, religion, work and social codes.
The centerpiece is the award-winning sculpture Intersections, a large steel cube pierced with geometric and floral motifs inspired by traditional Islamic architecture. Suspended from the ceiling and illuminated 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 main gallery of the UNM Art Museum a part of the artwork. The effect is lush, peaceful and immersive. Stemming from 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 uplifting. With Intersections, Agha opposes the public/private, religious/secular, as well as inclusive/exclusive binaries. In 2014, Intersections won both the public vote and the grand jury prize at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Agha, who studied textile design, treats designs like textiles by embroidering paper with thread and beads from her native Pakistan. These works, inspired by the memory of her mother’s quilting circles, reference the labor of women and the skills of immigrants traditionally excluded from creative expression and undervalued in the art world. These early experiences led Agha to reflect on the fate of women and are the basis of her feminism. The exhibition will present seven of his drawings in mixed media.
Agha was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan. She received her BFA from the National College of Arts, Lahore and her MFA from the University of North Texas. She is an associate professor of design 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 receives 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 numerous 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 Main and Van Deren Coke galleries of the UNM Art Museum from February 18 to July 2, 2022.