Anila Q Agha


Anila Quayyum Agha was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, where she completed her BFA in Textile Arts in 1991. Having relocated to Dallas, TX in 2000 she attended the University of North Texas and completed her MFA in Fiber Arts in 2004.

Agha has an extensive exhibition record here in the USA and has won numerous awards for her artwork, such as the Fort Worth Dealers Association Award, for her participation in Art in the Metroplex. Recently Agha received a CICF- Efroymson Foundation Travel Grant, and the New Frontiers Travel Grant for a research trip to Pakistan for 2009.

Agha was an Artist in Resident at the Center for Contemporary Craft, Houston, TX and taught for three years at the college/ University level in Houston, TX. Currently she is the Assistant professor of Drawing at The Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, IN.

Agha works with mixed media; creating artwork that explores and comments on global politics, mass media, and social and gender roles in our current cultural and global scenario. As a result her artwork is conceptually challenging, producing more complicated weaves of thought, artistic action and social experience.

Douglas Britt in his short review in the Houston Chronicle said the following about Agha’s work during her second solo show at Joanwich Art gallery, Houston, TX during the summer of 2008.

June 25, 2008, 1:33PM Last call for these area art exhibits By DOUGLAS BRITT Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle TOOLS When Words Aren't Enough

At Joanwich & Co., Pakistan-born and Houston-based artist Anila Quayyum Agha presents When Words Aren't Enough, a mysterious, exquisite body of works on paper in which writing and embroidery serve as the primary modes of drawing.

Most of the pieces feature stanzas by the Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, with English translations or paraphrases available alongside the exhibition checklists. Sometimes the poems' letters are sewn with golden thread onto the paper; in other cases, they're cut out.

Dyes, stains and beads join collaged or transferred headlines or excerpts from newspaper articles to create images that evoke antique manuscripts but reference contemporary events, specifically the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The juxtaposition of embroidery, which typically is seen as women's work, with news of warfare and the words of a male poet, hints at further political undertones in these seductive, unsettling works.



My artwork is made up of series of collaged drawings that explore how social and gender based issues result from the concepts constructed by history, traditions and the contemporary society. My usage of textile processes is inspired by the complicated social issues inherent in the Fiber field. The addition of dyes, wax, coffee or tea stains invoke the history and residual memory of the feminine, of the domestic and add to the depth of meaning conveyed by the drawings. So too, the use of embroidery as a drawing medium which both connects the multiple layers that result from my exploration of how concept and process interact and bridges the gap between modern materials and the historical and traditional patterns of oppression and domestic servitude. This process results in artwork that is conceptually ambiguous, producing more complicated weaves of thought, artistic action and social experience.

My current series of drawings incorporate translucent and opaque effects on paper examining the issues of space from a religious context; whether political, domestic, public or private. These artworks investigate strategies of control and dominance of the inhabitants within their spaces, interpreting the play of existence between the male and female domains where relative strengths, though clearly defined, continually shift from benign to malevolent. For me, the enclosure of the picture frame alludes to the enclosed and structured spaces that women live within and behind. One example of this phenomenon is the placement of geometrical or floral patterns in my work that allude to the division screens that are actually and symbolically placed in front of windows and doors in South Asian architecture to ensure seclusion of separate personal spaces for the genders. The simplistic depiction of women and men in world history and the focus on the obvious physical and psychological differences, such as control and strength versus emotion and chaos is of great interest to me. I use this depiction to generate works that question the validity of control and oppressive behaviors embedded in tradition and continually perpetuated behind the religious veil.

Within my work, embroidery embodies an essential femaleness because the push of the needle and the pull of the thread together represent the domestic identity of women and their ambivalent relationship to that identity. During the embroidery process, the needle and the myriad threads stitch in the personal narratives of women, thus creating beautiful but silent stories within the very essence of the work. The seductive and layered surfaces may suggest a deeper exploration of issues of submission, oppression and domesticity. I explore the additive and subtractive qualities of actually creating apertures on the picture plane and then sewing them back in or leaving openings to create illuminated conceptual spaces. I intend for these spaces to draw in the viewers, to have them observe the painstaking craft and reflect both on society’s definitions of men and women and participate in the dialogue to reshape those definitions. For me the work succeeds when the audience leaves contemplating the interaction of concept, process, and medium.

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