The artist’s one-of-a-kind, signature work consists of illuminated, intricate, fanciful designs projected on the walls and floor of an exhibit room in what looks like ethereal, geometric designs.
But Pakistani-born Anila Quayyum Agha aims to illuminate far more than mere exhibit spaces with pieces such as “Intersections” — of culture, religion and such — from 2014.
The partially lantern-like piece is the only one in the history of Michigan’s ArtPrize, the world’s most attended art festival, to win both the event’s juried and popular vote.
The associate professor of drawing at Herron School of Art + Design at IUPUI in Indianapolis will explain some of that when she speaks during what the Columbus Area Arts Council is labeling simply an “art talk” at 6:30 p.m. Friday at the Columbus Area Visitors Center.
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“My work obviously touches on a lot of different things,” Agha said, speaking by phone from her Indianapolis office. “It touches on immigration, being displaced, women and gender and the differences that people seem to be talk a lot about — and how people sometimes are dismissed because of differences because you’re brown or black or something that somehow apparently puts you at a disadvantage.
“I think that my work investigates the intersection of race, religion, creed and gender, and a number of things that I think are very potent in our political system and also worldwide. The refugee crisis, for instance, is heartbreaking,” she added.
The woman who recently participated in the Women’s March in Indianapolis worries little if people agree or disagree with her, or whether they like or dislike elements of her creations. That would defeat the point of art to begin with, as she sees it.
“I make art works because I am compelled to make them,” Agha said. “How people might receive my work is not at all a consideration in the beginning. It’s not my job to smack people in the face with my work.
“Besides, I want to bring people to the table for dialogue — or at least to gain some sort of understanding, if they happen to be at one of my exhibits or installations. If I do that, then I feel that my job is at least halfway done,” she added.
Columbus Area Arts Council executive director Kathryn Armstrong got to know Agha while Armstrong taught at Herron before moving to Columbus in 2016.
“One thing that’s been especially interesting for me to watch has been the impact her work has had on individuals,” Armstrong said. “You can look on Instagram and see how many people have reposted her work — specifically the piece from ArtPrize — and it’s pretty remarkable. And people felt a sense of ownership in it.”
Armstrong likes that Agha weaves her background and perspective into her work.
“Artists are always responding to events in the world,” Armstrong said. “And it’s always important that we’re thinking about inclusion and diversity in our programming.”
For Agha, it’s always important to be fearless, perhaps because she came from a world in which women often were fearful.
“My nature is to be bold,” she said. “I am never short on bravery. It’s been a hard journey and has not been easy.”
What: The Columbus Area Arts Council’s art talk, expected to be one of series of such events.
Who: Anila Quayyum Agha, born in Lahore, Pakistan to Muslim parents, though she attended a Christian boarding school. She is currently an associate professor of drawing at Herron School of Art + Design at IUPUI in Indianapolis.
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday.
Where: Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St.
Information: 812-376-2539 or artsincolumbus.org.