On October 10, 2014, Anila Quayyum Agha's "Intersections" won
ArtPrize's $200,000 Public Vote Grand Prize and $100,000 of the Juried Grand Prize. This piece, originally published in February 2014, provides background on both the Indianapolis-based artist and the winning piece.
her work turned into an Internet phenomenon earlier this year, Indianapolis
mixed-media artist Anila Quayyum
notice. Not at first.
had entered her latest installation -- a 6 1/2 square-foot laser-cut wooden
cube which casts intricate geometrical shadows where it's hung -- into an art
contest and didn't get much response.
didn't see any result from any stupid competition so I just kind of forgot
about it," says Agha, an assistant professor of drawing at Herron
School of Art and Design.
she heard it was a finalist for third place in the SEE ME Competition, she still hasn't received a big prize and the
piece, called "Intersections," is packed away in a crate in a corner of her
This is the cube that catapulted Agha to internet fame.
entry into the competition sent photos of the cube zipping around the online
art world. So much so that when art blog Colossal posted them, images of Agha's
work generated 11,000 Facebook likes and 500 Tweets. About a dozen other sites
posted them, too, including fashion site Idolizeonline.com and variety culture curator reddit.com, creating Internet buzz that's
all over the world," says Agha, who only realized what was happening online a
few weeks ago when her friends and students told her. "I guess, you know, I got
my 15 minutes of fame," she says modestly.
wonder. The cube, which took a year and a $35,000 grant from Indiana University
to create, is a statement to the world from the artist, who faced
discrimination and repression when she grew up in Pakistan. It is Agha's re-imagination
of Islamic mosques -- places of Muslim worship that she wasn't allowed inside
as a young woman. Her two brothers and father and other men could visit the
sacred places, but women were discouraged from leaving their homes in Pakistan,
mosques are so beautifully decked out," she says. "I felt, growing up, that I
missed out on the local art repository as well as my ability to appreciate
religion from a much closer more open way."
several years ago she visited the Alhambra
Granada, Spain, built centuries ago for high-ranking Muslims.There
she drew her versions of the intricate designs she missed seeing in her childhood. Then, she returned to Indianapolis with them and,
with a laser machine and technician paid for by the grant, she turned the
drawings into her "Intersections" cube.
think it's the most ambitious piece I've ever done," she says.
is something Agha knows about.
six children in Lahore, Pakistan, Agha's parents faced challenges
-- especially after the prime minister her father worked for was overthrown and
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a popular Berkeley College and
Oxford University-educated prime minister in the 1970s, was deposed in a coup.
Agha's father, an engineer, worked for the government that was run by Bhutto,
known as the "People's Leader," and her father was punished for his association
to Bhutto following the coup.
was kind of penalized and he died a very disappointed man," she says of Bhutto.
"And we were quite penniless. Really poor. We had
property, but couldn't sell it."
Anila Agha working in her studio on Indianapolis near east side. She works with paper, wood and wax to create interesting shapes and pattern.
a decade later, Agha's father became ill and died. He was 55.
had no health insurance and there was no money coming in," she remembers. "It
was very sad."
before her family's tragedy, though, a young Agha realized her life's
profession. One day in grade school, when her watercolor of a Pakistani sunset delighted
her teacher, the woman complimented her, telling her "you are going to be an
just kind of sat in my head for the longest time," she says. "I think it saved
my life. It gave me direction and an agenda."
her family's economic challenges, Agha got into an art school, where she earned her BFA in textile design. While studying there, she met the American man she would marry. Their union led her to
a move to Texas and, after her marriage broke up and Agha finished graduate school,
she landed a professorship at Herron and moved to Indianapolis in 2008.
a comfortable spot in her Indianapolis' duplex, Agha looks back on her
challenging path of work, study and job applications matter-of-factly. The hard
work propelled her to this point in life, when she splits her time between
teaching college students and creating her own pieces.
had a fire under my bottom," she remembers. "It was just so imperative to keep
doing this so I was producing and exhibiting and teaching."
days, she is surrounded by American comfort and her own artwork. The converted
garage behind her home functions as her art studio.
While famous for her cube, Agha's skill with a wide variety of media is on ample display in her studio.
in her short time in Indianapolis, Agha has earned prestigious grants,
including the Efroymson Contemporary Arts Fellowship,
the Arts Council of Indianapolis' Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship and IU's New
Frontiers Exploratory Research Grant. And she has exhibited her work all over
the city, including at the Indianapolis International Airport and the TURF
IDADA Art Pavilion,
which was set up to showcase local art during Super Bowl XLVI that was in
year, she created the cube.
piece is dear to her partly because it required so much work and partly because
it represents her childhood experience.
even as Agha works on her next series -- an exploration of environmental
disasters that she views as a metaphor for the exploitation of women -- she's
trying to find a suitable place for the cube to hang.
of students didn't know that was my work," she says.
it's still in the crate in the garage studio, but Agha doesn't want it to stay
there. Maybe it could hang at the Indianapolis Museum of Art for a time, or someone could add
it to a collection, she suggests.
would like to sell it and get it out of here so I can produce the next one,"
Bio: The first 20 years of Cathy Kightlinger’s career were spent as a newspaper reporter and columnist, so she is new to freelance writing. In her most recent role as The Indianapolis Star’s social columnist, Cathy wrote about fascinating people and parties, big and small. Fabulous shoes and contemporary art make her...The first 20 years of Cathy Kightlinger’s career were spent as a newspaper reporter and columnist, so she is new to freelance writing. In her most recent role as The Indianapolis Star’s social columnist, Cathy wrote about fascinating people and parties, big and small. Fabulous shoes and contemporary art make her happy. She lives in Broad Ripple and loves a good story.more