Strikingly beautiful sculptures and works on paper reflect on global politics, social and gender roles and mass media
The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art is pleased to announce Liminal Space a solo exhibition by Pakistani-American artist Anila Agha. On view July 15 – October 29, the exhibition explores the expansiveness of Agha’s multidisciplinary practice, bringing together immersive sculptures and intricate works on paper.
Agha creates large-scale sculptural works, wall mounted installations, and works on paper that are strikingly beautiful, while also reflecting on complex themes of global politics, social and gender roles, and mass media. Agha grew up in Lahore, Pakistan where women were prevented from participating in most art forms, with the exception of sewing. Inspired by her mother’s sewing, as a student in the US Agha began to incorporate sewing and the use of patterns into her practice, showing the way these art forms can be elevated beyond conventional ideas of craft and ‘women’s work.’ While studying fine art she was often told that as a woman of color and an immigrant, she would never advance as an artist if she incorporated craft or visual elements unique to Islamic culture into her work. Agha disregarded the advice and developed a singular practice that bridges the aesthetic of her childhood and personal history with a distinctly contemporary vision.
Liminal Space will be divided between two galleries, with one gallery dedicated to the large-scale sculpture Shimmering Mirage. The work features a large steel cube, intricately cut with floral and geometric patterns inspired by Islamic architecture, textiles, and miniature paintings, which also alludes to the richly ornamented public spaces such as mosques that Agha was excluded from as a female growing up in Lahore. The hanging cube is illuminated by a single light source, which fills the room with ornate patterns created by light and shadow. Blanketing the room with its stunning patterns Shimmering Mirage offers a quiet, meditative, and welcoming space for visitors.
In the second gallery visitors encounter more intimate works by Agha, including a small-scale sculpture and a series of works on paper, offering a look at another aspect of her practice. In pieces like Walk with Me My Beloved 6 and Be Still My Heart, Agha’s steady and dedicated hand is evident in the small sewn beads throughout the surface of the work. Formally trained in textiles, these works capture Agha’s intimate and laborious methodology, while also asserting her vision of elevating craft into the contemporary. Through these delicate and intricate works, Agha asserts her commitment to feminism, reflecting on women’s rights, equality, and her cultural identity.
Much of Agha’s works contain dualities, and though the finished form is often strikingly beautiful, the work is grounded in more complex ideas than first meet the eye. Her work plays with the division between masculine and feminine, public and private, religious and secular, space and refuge, and the inclusive spaces she creates through her work allow visitors to reflect on these oppositions. Agha has said of her work that by exploring these dualities, or polarities she is able “to delve into controversial topics that reflect upon topical themes of cultural identity, global and environmental politics, mass media and social/gender roles.”
Inherent in all of Agha’s work is the desire for the work to be accessible to everyone – to create an environment where audiences from any community and any walk of life can experience Agha’s work. Agha’s work in public sculpture, at rural museums all over the world, and at major global institutions, exemplifies her intention to create access around her work in order to contribute to the healing and transformation of our divided world.
In advance of Agha’s exhibition at the museum, a large-scale sculpture by Agha was installed in a public roundabout in San Luis Obispo this past December and received a public works award. The sculpture, The Greys in Between, is the first of 15 major public artworks to be installed in San Luis Obispo in collaboration with the museum.
The San Luis Obispo Museum of Modern Art is located at 1010 Broad Street in San Luis Obispo. The Liminal Space exhibit runs from July 15-October 29. Admission to SLOMA is free. For hours and information on all exhibits and activities, visit sloma.org or call (805) 543-8562.