North Texas Daily

Artist wins big in international art competition

Artist wins big in international art competition

Artist wins big in international art competition
November 13
00:08 2014

Samantha McDonald / Senior Staff Writer

For the first time in ArtPrize history, an artist won over both the public and the jury to take home $300,000 in prize money and the honor of becoming one of the most distinguished artists to graduate from UNT.

Fiber arts alumna Anila Quayyum Agha received the international competition’s $200,000 Public Vote Grand Prize for her geometrical installation, “Intersections.” After three days of discussion, ArtPrize jurors selected two artists’ works for the Juried Grand Prize, awarding half the $200,000 total to Virginia artist Sonya Clark and half to Agha, who lives in Indiana.

Lit from the inside by a single bulb, Agha’s 6-foot square laser-cut cube casts intricate shadows around the room as it hangs from the center of a gallery at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. “Intersections,” she said, was inspired by the Islamic geometric patterns at the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain, and represents her experience of exclusion from mosques as a young woman in Pakistan.

“The crux of the project was to create a space that would be open to anybody of any denomination,” Agha said. “For me, it’s really important to make artwork that crosses boundaries and brings people together.”

Agha’s art practice for the past decade has employed a mixed media approach, using multiple techniques including laser-cutting and screen printing to create “Intersections,” which was a culmination of the work she had been involved since becoming a graduate student. Receiving the New Frontiers Research Grant from Indiana University in 2012 allowed Agha to embrace new technology that helped improve her practice and ultimately win the sixth annual ArtPrize awards.

“All my life, I’ve strived to make work that is conceptually driven, so it’s really gratifying to realize that [“Intersections”] connected to people on both elemental and intellectual levels,” Agha said.

An artist’s roots

Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, Agha decided in the sixth grade to pursue a future in art. She worked in several fields including textile design. This eased her parents’ skeptical minds due to the financial instability typically connected with being an artist.

Although Agha graduated from the National College of Arts in Lahore with her bachelor’s degree in textile art design, she moved with her family to the U.S. in 1999 to get a master’s degree in fine arts at UNT, which she received in 2004.

She then completed artist residency at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft the following year and left for Indianapolis in 2008 to teach drawing at the Herron School of Art and Design.

Agha is known for attempting to broach issues that explore history and culture through her artwork. One of the issues she portrayed in “Intersections” is that of exclusion, which affects virtually all members of society. Overcoming this divisiveness through her installation has allowed viewers to feel that they belong regardless of their backgrounds or interests, she said.

“To be able to win both the public and the juried prize means that the art-literate people and people who may not have the art-making educational background accept you because [your work] touched their hearts on both levels,” Agha said. “I think that is one of the most important things I have achieved in my artistic career.”

Fantastic fibers

Associate Professor of Fibers Amie Adelman said Agha was the first graduate student she admitted into the fibers graduate program. Agha enrolled in one course under Adelman’s direction for six semesters, and showed improvement throughout her academic education.

UNT’s fibers program integrates everything from drawing and painting to metals and sculpture in two-dimensional, three-dimensional or installation formats. Its mixed media arrangement allowed Agha to take advantage of opportunities to explore these different mediums, Adelman said.

“Fibers is not well-represented in art galleries and museums, yet Anila’s artwork pushed the field of fiber art beyond anyone’s expectation,” Adelman said. “It is definitely a huge accomplishment.”

When College of Visual Arts and Design Interim Dean Eric Ligon first learned about Agha’s installation, he tried to imagine how the artwork and its shadow patterns would look in different settings, whether in a more modern room or a church likened to the Alhambra.

“I loved the fact that it materially changes every moment as a person in a space,” he said. “I think there’s this really beautiful interaction between what she’s setting out to do and the way people can change that artifact.”

Ligon said he is also proud that Agha is representing the university, particularly its fibers program, which allows each student to not only learn new techniques, but also develop his or her work and ultimately achieve success as an artist.

“What she designed is just phenomenal,” Ligon said. “I think it reflects very well on the training and the education that our fine arts students receive.”

Intersections by Anila Quayyum Agha. Laser-cut Wood, Single Light Bulb, 6.5’ Square Cube, Completed: December 2013, Cast Shadows: 32’x34’. Photo courtesy of Agha. Photo courtesy of the artist. 

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