anila quayyum agha on how life experience led to an impassioned artistic exploration of light

alhambra nights, 2016 | acrylic and halogen bulb | 30″ x 27″ x 30″

born and raised in lahore, pakistan, before later moving to the united states, artist anila quayyum agha has been deeply influenced by the simultaneous sense of alienation and transience that informs the migrant experience. ‘my experiences in my native pakistan and as an immigrant here in the united states are woven into creating artwork that participates in re-defining and re-writing women’s or immigrants’ handiwork as a poignant and often excluded form of creative expression,’ she shares in a poignant and powerful interview with designboom. from installations monumental in scale to intimate embroidered drawings, agha’s work explores the entwined yet contradictory relationships between gender, culture, religion, labor and social codes. ‘the use of a variety of media, to create large-scale sculptural installations or intimate embroidered drawings to question my place within these binaries, allows me to inquire into the validity of our broad cultural acceptance of them,’ she shares.

treating light as a sculptural material, the artist’s work has stunned viewers with its complex, interlacing ornamentation and spectacular interplay of light and shadow — a theme drawn from her familiarity with the architectural legacy of the islamic mughal dynasty in south asia and its intricate carved marble screens, or jaalis. hidden shapes and patterns emerge from fractured shadows in dramatic displays across walls that induce a state of contemplation and introspection. ‘mixing reflections and shadows with solid forms and often transposing the resulting effect, my artwork aspires simultaneously to be perceptually soothing and conceptually challenging. all my past experiences coalesced, allowing me to explore and combine pattern, light, and shadow as materials within my art practice.’

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