(#AnilaAgha @anilaagha)


On view at PEM February 6July 10, 2016

SALEM, MA –  The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents Intersections, an immersive single room installation that conjures a site where a thousand years ago Islamic and Christian traditions thrived in coexistence. As part of PEM’s Present Tense Initiative, Pakistani-American artist Anila Quayyum Agha creates a timely, intense and enticing space. Intersections is on view at PEM from February 6 through July 10, 2016.

Growing up under the strict conventions of gender that inform Pakistani society, Agha felt excluded and cloistered at home, while her male peers enjoyed warmth and companionship inside Pakistan’s exclusively male mosques. Now living in America, Agha experiences new freedoms and, yet, a different kind of exclusion – that of being a Muslim. This sense of alienation, and the desire to transcend it, informs every aspect of her work.

A five-foot laser-cut steel cube at the center of the gallery casts patterned shadows that echo the filigree found at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, a historic structure that was cooperatively built in the 14th century by Muslim, Jewish and Christian artisans and represents the coexistence of the Western and Islamic worlds. A single light bulb centered in the cube creates the interplay of light and shadow across all of the gallery’s surfaces, as well as the viewer. Agha presents an immersive meditation on the nature of boundaries, categorization and alienation, while evoking the power of that which is mutual and common to us all.  

Intersections envelops us physically and symbolically in a realm where beauty transcends division and conflict, ” says PEM Curator of South Asian Art Sona Datta. “Agha’s work asks us to consider worldly binaries – the sacred and the profane, inclusion and exclusion, male and female – while providing a sublime environment that leaves us in a state of awe.”


Anila Quayyum Agha was born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1965. She received her BFA from the National College of Arts, Lahore, and an MFA in Fiber Arts from the University of North Texas in 2001. She has had solo exhibitions in the United States, United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. Residencies and awards include the Grand Prize at ArtPrize (2014), New Frontiers Exploratory Research Grant, Indiana University (2013); New Frontiers Travel Grants to Mazatlan, Mexico (2012), Spain (2011), and Pakistan (2010); and a Houston Center for Contemporary Craft residency (2005). Agha is currently an associate professor of drawing at the Herron School of Art & Design at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.


The Present Tense Initiative is PEM’s dynamic, interdisciplinary exploration of contemporary art and culture and celebrates the central role that creative expression plays in shaping our world today. The Present Tense Initiative engages leading creative agents and thinkers to cultivate innovative experiences fueled by the intersection of cultures, disciplines and technologies. By encouraging innovation and fostering new forms of creativity, PEM seeks to push the boundaries of what a museum experience can be.


Intersections: Anila Quayyum Agha is made possible by supporters of PEM’s Present Tense Initiative: Terry and Dick Albright, Dick and Deborah Carlson, Susan and Appy Chandler and Fay Chandler. The East India Marine Associates of the Peabody Essex Museum provided additional support

Anila Quayyum Agha, Intersections, 2012.  Photo courtesy of the artist.