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The Flash Of Dallas Art Week Brings Unexpected Depth

The fair welcomes artist Anila Quayaam Agha, who uses ancient sacred geometry to create a luminescent, non-demominational mosque in the heart of Texas.

A glowing view of things to come at the Dallas Art Fair, courtesy of Anila Quayaam Agha

Dallas just got a whole lot flashier, but it has nothing to do with big hair and rhinestone sweaters. Starting today the north Texas city will play host to the Dallas Art Fair, the newest in a series of international arts events vying to become the next Art Basel Miami Beach. Among the numerous functions and galas set to take place across the city April 9th to 12th, one of the strongest is at Dallas Contemporary, where New York “it-boy” Nate Lowman, painter David Salle, and multi-media artist Anila Quayaam Agha will all be exhibiting work until August 23. Anila, a native of Pakistan and current Indianapolis resident, seeks to challenge stereotypes of the Muslim world with her installation Intersections, which provides a genderless, non-denominational, illuminated “spiritual temple” for visitors within the museum.


Intersections courtesy of Anila Quayaam Agha

In 2014, when Anila originally unveiled Intersections, it went on to win both the Public Grand and the Juried Grand Prize of ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids. The work hits that sweet spot in between intellectually challenging and visually stunning, and is composed of a 3D installation utilizing the type of patterns known as sacred geometry, a facet of design that includes symbolic and sacred meanings within its proportions, and is usually found in Islamic holy spaces. The installation consists of an ornate 6.5-foot laser-cut wooden box, hung from the ceiling of the gallery and lit from within to cast shadows on the surrounding walls. It’s meant to evoke the dazzling architecture of the Alhambra, a famed Moorish palace in Spain where “Islamic and Western discourses met and co-existed harmoniously public and private, and served as a testament to the symbiosis of difference.” Anila’s work also presents a series of “contradictions,” and, well, intersections, which range from physical boundaries, to traditional elements juxtaposed with the modern. The sanctuary and ambiance Intersections provides is meant also to recall the mosques of Anila’s homeland, from which she was often excluded as a woman growing up in Lahore.

As a reaction to male-dominated public spaces, Anila told The Creators Project, “I became very androgynous when I was younger, which allowed me to be invisible and observe people.”

In Pakistan, "a woman’s world does not extend beyond the four walls of her home,” she explained. “And because of that, women are sheltered from a world of creativity. Art making helped me make sense of my culture.”

A close-up of Intersections

When we caught up with Anila during her Dallas installation she was adamant that her work be for all. “My intent right from the start was to build a sublime space that welcomed everyone,” she says. “Being non-religious, I was more interested in creating a non-denominational space that would draw from familiar patterns that I grew up with.” She continues, “Islamic patterns are derived from nature and often due to repetition and geometry convey precision/perfection. Muslim audiences around the world are familiar with these patterns that are not only used inside mosques but also in public and private spaces.” Her art, then, is an extension of her experience. “The visit to the Alhambra, the memory of beautiful spaces from Pakistan and my exclusion from the public sphere of my own life, all contributed to this project,” she said. “In my studio practice I strive to create work that is poetic to evoke strong emotions and make the viewer think of their own personal subjective experiences that may reference not only belonging but also alienation.”

The show is in some ways a homecoming for Anila, who received her MFA in Fiber Arts from the University of North Texas. Dallas Contemporary’s newly named Senior Curator Justine Ludwig, who specializes in South Asian contemporary art, was one of the driving forces bringing Anila back. As Ludwig recently mentioned to Dallas Culture Map, “I love that Anila transforms the gallery into a contemplative space. Her work illuminates the dialogue between cultures and the permeability of borders that divide them. I find the message behind her work to be beautiful and universally accessible.”

If you happen to be traveling to Dallas for the art fair festivities, we also suggest stopping by the fourth annual MTV RE:DEFINE benefit, on Friday, April 10 at the Goss-Michael Foundation. The evening will benefit the MTV Staying Alive Foundation and Dallas Contemporary, and premiere an art exhibition, auction, and gala honoring Michael Craig-Martin – one of the most respected, influential and iconic artists in the contemporary art world. Artists Nate Lowman and Dan Colen will serve as the benefit’s music curators, with a special performance by Lizzie Bougatsos & Sadie Laska of I.U.D.

In addition, The Goss-Michael Foundation will work with Craig-Martin and the Gagosian Gallery to present a citywide exhibition of 10 works of art in public spaces in Dallas from the beginning of April through May 2015.

If you can’t swing a flight to Texas this weekend, make it a point to visit in early May, when inaugural Soluna Festival synchs the Dallas Symphony Orchestra with cutting-edge multimedia artists like Alex Prager and Pipilotti Rist.

For a full list of Dallas Art Fair festivities check here.

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