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Anila Quayyum Agha
Walking with My Mother’s Shadow

Exhibition October 20th – November 26th, 2016
Press Preview & Opening Reception: Thursday, October 20th 6:00pm – 8:00pm
35 Great Jones St., New York NY 10012

Aicon Gallery is pleased to present Walking with My Mother’s Shadow, the first major New York solo exhibition by Anila Quayyum Agha. In 2014, Anila’s now iconic sculptural installation Intersections was awarded the Public Vote Grand Prize and split the Juried Grand Prize at the 2014 ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, MI. The installation has since traveled internationally and nationally with critical acclaim in exhibitions at the National Sculpture Museum in Valladolid, Spain, The Contemporary Art Museum in Dallas, TX; Rice University Art Gallery in Houston, TX, and the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. Derivations of Intersections have been exhibited in Korea, Turkey, and the U.A.E. as well as in the United States. Currently, All The Flowers Are For Me is showing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in Brooklyn, NY. Agha’s Opening Reception and exhibition in New York will inaugurate Aicon Gallery’s newly expanded space, which is designed over two floors and spans three gallery spaces, significantly broadening the gallery’s programming and curatorial vision.

Anila has lived on the boundaries of different faiths such as Islam and Christianity, and in cultures like Pakistan and the USA. Her art is deeply influenced by the simultaneous sense of alienation and transience that informs the migrant experience. This consciousness of knowing what is markedly different about the human experience also bears the gift of knowing its core commonalities, and it is these tensions and contradictions that are embodied in her artwork. Through the use of a variety of media, from large sculptural installations to embroidered drawings, she explores the deeply entwined political relationships between gender, culture, religion, labor and social codes. In her work she has used combinations of textile processes and sculptural methodologies to reveal and question the gendering of traditional craft as inherently domestic and, thus, excluded from being considered a fine art form.

Anila’s current work in this exhibition reflects on the complexities of love, loss and gains; experienced by her over the past year. The works on paper and the sculptural installations were borne from a mix of emotions following her son’s wedding and her mother’s passing within weeks of each other early this year. The personal loss of a mother, in a broader sense, is compounded by the communal loss - of loved ones, identities, homes and countries – experienced by myriad people across a world ravaged by the atrocities of war and displacement. Simultaneously, Anila also sees this body of work as reflective of joy for her son’s future life, along with the lives of many others across the world who have been given second chances through resettlement in new lands, but who will always carry with them a sense of loss for their uprootedness.

Throughout her oeuvre, Anila remains fascinated by the interplay of presumed opposites that are never quite so: male and female, the definite and the amorphous, the geometric and the organic. In this new body of work, these concerns emerge in an exploration of joy and grief, the nuptial and the funereal, the seen and the unseen. Within these works she examines the amoebic transparency of sorrow, and its ability to reflect and inflict light and darkness. Anila worked with materials that are transparent or ethereal, that inhabit the limbo of loss, a space between visibility and invisibility, reality and unreality, light and shadow, real and unreal. These materials appear fragile, but are often resilient, hardy, even stubborn just like sorrow when cut, pushed, pulled, scraped, or sewn together.

Materials such as steel, cut with delicate patterns, or embroidery and beads on white, black and brown paper, reflect and refract light. They represent space that belongs to one more than the other, evaluate the color of her body and the bodies of others, and the cycles of life and death. The series in white reference the white of marble gravestones and shrouds, both of which are a central element of death and its commemoration in Pakistan. The black drawings speak of the surface and the hidden layers often not seen or mined. The brown drawings talk of our bodies, and the longing to belong and to matter. The red and black sculptural installations magnify floral and geometric motifs to inhabit a large space, covering and beautifying all that are in it.

In the floral beauty of the patterns and layers, the cuts and embroidery strive to capture the identity, beauty, and femininity of her mother and other mothers that become obscured by gravestone and shroud. These patterns pay homage to the organic to which death is inevitably linked but from which new life also emerges. The many colored, metallic embroidery threads in these works are often used in women’s wedding dresses in Pakistan but never for shrouds. In stitching these threads into paper, and cutting patterns in steel, she connects the wedding that is believed the beginning of a woman’s life-giving journey, and the funeral that is its ultimate end. This interplay of the nuptial and the funereal suggests the larger cycle of life binding us through gossamer fragility and beauty of a bloom that will undoubtedly fade.

Anila Quayyum Agha was born in Lahore, Pakistan and lives and works in Indianapolis, IN. She has an MFA from the University of North Texas and currently is the Associate Professor of Drawing at the Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). She has exhibited in over twenty solo shows and fifty group shows. Her work is in the collections of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi, India. Anila has also won numerous awards and grants like the Efroymson Artist Fellowship. The most recent accolade is the prestigious Glen W. Irwin, Jr., M.D. Research Scholar Award, awarded by IUPUI. This is her first major solo exhibition in New York City and with Aicon Gallery.