Sacred Silence - Anila Quayyum Agha

One of my favorite parts about working at the Harrison Center is the sneak peek I usually get of our exhibits before the First Friday public opening. Now, anyone can come tour the galleries here whenever they’d like, but sometimes there’s a great moment for me in the middle of the day when I can walk into the gallery and have it all to myself. After the artist’s work has been installed in the main gallery or somewhere else, I can sit for as long as I like, just absorbing it all.

It’s a rare experience for me—someone who isn’t a visual artist—to be alone with my own experience and interpretation of an installation like that regardless of who the artist is, but after stepping into the main gallery this afternoon, I think our current exhibit will be one to remember.

As part of our August First Friday, we are pleased to have mixed-media artist Anila Agha contributing two of her installations. Agha was born in Lahore, Pakistan and she completed her BFA in Textile Arts at the National College of Arts and her MFA in Fiber Arts at the University of North Texas. For several years she lived and worked as an artist in Houston, but in 2008 she moved to Indianapolis and became an Assistant Professor of Drawing at the Herron School of Art + Design at IUPUI.

A widely accomplished artist who demonstrates extraordinary skill with a variety of mixed media, Agha’s work has been featured in an equally diverse set of venues both nationally and internationally. She has been the recipient of the Efroymson Arts Fellowship, the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Internal Grant, the New Frontiers Research Grant, and several other travel grants for research in Spain, Mexico, Pakistan, and the U.K.

It’s an impressive resume to say the least, and now that I’ve seen her work, it’s easy to see how all that work has come together to create one of the most notable exhibits I’ve experienced here.

The Harrison Gallery is currently split into two sections for Agha’s exhibit Sacred Silence, which include the two installations—Rights of Passage and Intersections. These pieces, in her own words, “explore and comment on global politics, cultural multiplicity, mass media, and social and gender roles in our current cultural and global scenario.”

photo 1

The examples I got to see certainly comment on all those things and more. The first exhibit I had the chance to see was her Rights of Passage—a series of square mixed media pieces that incorporates a variety of repeating, radial designs and images meant to reflect designs on the graves of women at the Makli necropolis near the Indus River Delta in Pakistan. Those designs reflect similar patterns worn by those same women in life, and the correlation highlights a constancy in their life and death. As she explains, this piece is homage to those women who are “subjects of adornment.” passing in and from this life in silence and obscurity.

Equally engaging is the second part of her exhibit, Intersections. A square structure hangs from the ceiling, illuminated by a single, interior light which casts patterned shadows over the entire room.

photo 3-1

As Agha explains, “[the] goal is to explore the binaries of public and private, light and shadow, and static and dynamic by relying on the purity and inner symmetry of geometric design, and the interpretation of the cast shadows.”

The geometrical patterning used in the project is a replication of similar designs found in Islamic sacred spaces, but the structure of the piece means that its appearance and the viewer’s experience of it will be partially dictated by the space in which it is installed. The shadows cast are different in every location, meaning that this will be a wholly original exhibit for the Harrison Center.

So you can see why I said this is an exhibit to remember.

And if all that isn’t enough reason to come to First Friday already, there’s even going to be a trail mix bar. Yeah, that’s right. And I know how hard it is for anyone to turn down an opportunity like that. Quality art AND cashews? I know I’ll be there.