Bright light seeped through the geometric-patterned frames of a steel cube suspended from the ceiling, casting soft shadows onto the pale walls of a room in the Addison Gallery of American Art. The viewer’s dynamic silhouette intermingled with the static, Islamic-inspired designs splayed across every surface of the room, just as artist Anila Quayyum Agha envisioned.
Allison Kemmerer, curator of the exhibition, “Convergence,” said, “[Agha was] was visiting the Alhambra in Spain, and she was… struck by the beauty there, but it made her think of childhood memories of being in Pakistan… in mosques that she was not allowed to enter because she was a girl. She started thinking of the conflicting feelings of awe and alienation and how that actually paralleled her experience as an immigrant to the United States… Anybody can come here; it’s a contemplative space, but it’s also important to her that we’re part of it. As we move, our shadows are changing it.”
In addition to Agha, the Addison is currently hosting the works of three other international artists: Lalla Essaydi, a Moroccan artist, Yun-Fei Ji, a Chinese artist, and Fred Han Chang Liang, another Chinese artist as well as this year’s Edward E. Elson Artist-in-Residence.
“I wanted [to find] artists who combined not just east and west, which is a broad division, but historic and contemporary subject matter [as well as] historic techniques. That’s how we honed in on the four artists, and the idea was [that] each of them could have their own gallery so we could show viewers their work in depth,” said Kemmerer.
In Liang’s piece, “Looty, Elgin’s Gift,” hidden amongst the intricately cut strands of paper is the image of a Pekingese dog. Using the folk art of cut paper, jianzhi, Liang invokes the story of the British stealing the Chinese Empress’ dog to gift to Queen Victoria. The breed became extremely popular amongst the British high class but has since lost its imperial status in modern society. Through the story, Liang comments on the dissolution of cultures over time and place.
“[The Pekingese dog] is a breed we all recognize here, but we have no idea where it originated, and how this all came to be… [The artist] is just interested in how things migrate, and once they go to a new place, [and] the influences that bear on them. It’s paper cut too… Fred is most known for using the technique of paper cut,” said Kemmerer.
Essaydi’s series of photos, “Les Femmes de Maroc,” elicited commentary on the oppression of women in Morocco, depicting women with stern expressions in white drapery and lines and lines of hand-written henna. The images critiqued the sexualization of women in nineteenth-century orientalist paintings, creating stark contrasts through the use of neutral colors and fully-clothed models.
“It’s so beautifully constructed, and the mix of photography with illustrations just makes a certain movement within the painting. It has such an amazing theme of hidden feminism and objectification in the history of Morocco,” said Karen Sun ’20.
“Convergence” will be on display at the Addison until July 2018.