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Islamic Art–Inspired Shadow Box Unites Cultures Through Beauty

Take a new look at Anila Quayyum Agha's stunning Intersections, courtesy of Mark and Angela Walley.
Official images by Mark and Angela Walley, via Flickr

Intricate Islamic patterns that project crisp shadows around an entire room emerge in Anila Quayyum Agha's powerful and moving project, Intersections. A new video by Mark and Angela Walley for the Rice University Art Gallery gives a glimpse into the motivations for the piece. The sculpture is lit by a 600 watt light and was previously awarded a historic total of $300,000 for winning both the $200,000 Public Vote Grand Prize and the $100,000 Juried Grand Prize at the ArtPrize international art competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


The main inspiration for Intersections came from the Alhambra, where Agha “realized how important that architectural space is for both the East and the West, because that’s where the East and the West met.” She admires the fact that the artisans who built the Alhambra were a mixture of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. To her, it “created this metaphor of union. And then, to compare it to our times now, it became very relevant… to use it as a symbol where we can maybe strive to be at that moment again. And so Alhambra became like a linchpin to create the project around.”

Growing up in Pakistan, Agha was not allowed to pray in the local mosques due to her gender. This experience became a trigger for her to create her art: she wants to be able to bring awe and spiritual fulfillment through art to everybody. Intersections bathes the entire room in shadow and pattern, making it more than just an object. It turns the environment into a religious space which “allows everybody of every denomination, color, race, creed, [and] sexuality to be in that space because it’s a space of beauty.” The piece is awe-inspiring and intensely experiential: “when you walk through it… the light casts the shadows on our bodies, so we become part of the environment.” This sense of welcome and unity is very important to Agha, so she uses a beauty as a communal force to spread love and acceptance.

Check out Mark and Angela Walley's footage of Intersections below:

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Anila Quayyum Agha: Intersections from Walley Films on Vimeo.

Intersections is on view at the Rice University Art Gallery September 24-December 6.


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