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Anila Quayyum Agha : Intersections.

Rice Gallery University of Huston (Texas) USA. 
24 September - 6 December 2015.



Pakistani-American artist Anila Quayyum Agha uses light and cast shadow to transform Rice Gallery into a sacred space of her own making that is open to all. “Intersections” is inspired by Agha’s seminal experience of exclusion as a woman from Mosques, a space of community and creativity, while growing up in Pakistan. 

The wooden frieze emulates a pattern from the Alhambra, a palace where Islamic and Western discourses 
met and co-existed in harmony, and serves as a metaphor of union.


In the Intersections project, the geometrical patterning in Islamic sacred spaces, associated with certitude 
is explored in a way that reveals its fluidity. The viewer is invited to confront the contradictory nature of all 
intersections, while simultaneously exploring boundaries. My 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 form of the design and its layered, multidimensional variations will 
depend both on the space in which it is installed, the arrangement of the installation, and the various paths 
that individuals take while experiencing the space.

" The Intersections project takes the seminal experience of exclusion as a woman from a space of community and creativity such as a Mosque and translates the complex expressions of both wonder and exclusion that have been my experience while growing up in Pakistan. The wooden frieze emulates a pattern from the Alhambra, which was poised at the intersection of history, culture, and art and was a place where Islamic and Western discourses, met and coexisted in harmony and served as a testament to the symbiosis of difference.
For me the familiarity of the space visited at the Alhambra Palace and the memories of another time and 
place from my past, coalesced in creating this project. My intent with this installation was to give 
substance to mutualism, exploring the binaries of public and private, light and shadow, and static and dynamic. 

This installation project relies on the purity and inner symmetry of geometric design, the interpretation of the 
cast shadows and the viewer’s presence within a public space."

Intersections was inspired by Agha’s visit to the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. Built in the 9th century as a 
castle fortress, the Alhambra fell into ruin before being restored and reconstructed from the 11th – 15th centuries by rulers of the last Muslim dynasty in Spain. Today, the Alhambra is a UNESCO World Heritage site where visitors 
can marvel at interiors in which every surface is covered with the complex, interlacing designs of Islamic art.
The beauty of these spaces caused Agha to reflect upon her childhood in Lahore, Pakistan where culture dictated that women were excluded from the mosque, a place of creativity and community, and instead prayed at home. 

She says of her Alhambra experience, “To my amazement discovered the complex expressions of both wonder 
and exclusion that had been my experience while growing up.”

Agha translated these contradictory feelings into her installation, Intersections, by creating a contemplative 
space of her own making that is open to all. She used simple means to dramatic effect: a single, bright light 
suspended from the ceiling shines through an intricately laser-cut box made from wood and painted black. 
Each side of this cube is the same, repeating a symmetrical pattern Agha designed by combining and adapting 
different decorative elements she saw at the Alhambra. The geometric shapes and lines become shadows that 
cover the gallery walls, floor, and ceiling, and even gallery visitors. Within Intersections, no clear boundary or 
separation exists; our moving bodies change the nature of the pattern as we walk freely through its dense 

If a person is excluded from a mosque all that it can perceive of outside are shades. 

Agha lived in the shade of the mosque without suspecting what it could conceal well because 
it could not enter there. Its manner of entreating this cultural curse and of replay a scenario of childhood is to assemble its interpretation of the forms by shades. 

About the Artist : 

Anila Quayyum Agha was born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1965. She received her BFA from the National 
College of Arts, Lahore, and an MFA in Fiber Arts from the University of North Texas in 2001. 
She has had solo exhibitions in the United States, United Arab Emirates, and Pakistan. 

Residencies and awards include the New Frontiers Exploratory Research Grant, Indiana University (2013); 
New Frontiers Travel Grants to Mazatlan, Mexico (2012), Spain (2011), and Pakistan (2010); and a Houston Center for Contemporary Craft residency (2005). 

Intersections was awarded the Public Vote Grand Prize and split the Juried Grand Prize in a 
tie at the 2014 ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Agha is currently an associate 
professor of drawing at the Herron School of Art & Design at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

Support and sponsorship : 

Rice University Art Gallery Patrons provide major support for Rice Gallery exhibitions and programs. 
Rice Gallery Members, the Robert J. Card, M.D. and Karol Kreymer Catalogue Endowment, and the Leslie 
and Brad Bucher Artist Residency Endowment provide additional support. Rice Gallery receives partial operating support from the City of Houston. Central Market, KUHF-FM, Saint Arnold Brewing Company provide in-kind contributions. Intersections is presented with the support and collaboration of The Boniuk Institute for the 
Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance, Rice University.

Video : Alhambra of Granada. Spain. 

Website of the Artist.

Website of exhibition.

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