Anila Agha's ArtPrize winner 'Intersections' to go on display locally

  • March 16, 2016


INDIANAPOLIS -- Immaculate beauty.

That's how Anila Quayyum Agha describes magnificent works of art that have the power to "bring you to tears and laughter at the same time," such as a glorious sunset or the Grand Canyon at sunrise.

Those words also describe "Intersections," the 2014 ArtPrize-winning sculpture created by Agha, an associate professor of drawing in the Herron School of Art and Design at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. The sculpture goes on public display Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Imagine a single lightbulb inside a cube made of six 6.5 ft.-square panels of wood with intricate laser cutouts and hung from a ceiling. When the light is on, the sculpture floods the room with lace-like shadows resembling architectural motifs found in mosques. That is "Intersections."

"Intersections" cast its spell over visitors at the 2014 ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan, winning both the public and jury awards. The piece has taken the art-and-museum world by storm since earning Agha, who was born in Pakistan, an unprecedented $300,000 in that international competition:

  • The Indiana State Museum is exhibiting the original sculpture March 19 through May 8 as part of the museum's celebration of the Indiana bicentennial. This is the first time the artwork has been displayed publicly in Indiana.
  • National Geographic posted online a video documentary filmed when the original sculpture was exhibited in Houston's Rice University Art Gallery.
  • A steel replica, "Edition No. 1," is on display through July 10 at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. The exhibit opened Feb. 6. "Inspired by traditional Islamic architectural motifs, Pakistani-American artist Anila Quayyum Agha's laser-cut steel lantern conjures the design of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, a historic site of cross-cultural intersection where a thousand years ago Islamic and Western cultures thrived in coexistence," reads the museum abstract.
  • A second steel version was displayed in Valladolid, Spain, as part of "Fear Nothing, She Says: When Art Reveals Mystic Truths," a group show of contemporary artists at the Museo Nacional de San Gregorio (National Museum of Sculpture) Nov. 18 to Feb. 28.

It is an artist's dream to create a work that stands out in its space. Agha's "Intersections" transforms an entire room.

Her intent was to create a place where everyone was welcome, "a place to pray, a place to laugh, a place to dance, stand, and talk for everyone -- gay, Muslim, Christian, Jewish," the professor said.

"I knew I had built something sound, elegant, meaningful and with a lot of potential," said Agha, an associate professor of drawing at Herron. "But I had no idea it would garner the kind of following it has over time."

In fact, recognition of the genius of her creation was slow. She first entered the piece in an online art contest. Although the image went viral, it didn’t even make it into the contest's top three.

A small sculpture -- which served as the model as Agha figured out the dimensions for the prizewinner -- hangs from the ceiling of her living room, which has walls clad with the original art of friends.

In her self-standing studio at her near-downtown Indianapolis home, a "remix" of the artistic concept, titled "All the Flowers Are for Me," is under fabrication.

Other works in progress in the studio include intricate drawings made with tiny beads sewn onto paper using metallic thread.

Agha was a fifth-grader when she first thought of being an artist. She had completed a watercolor painting of a sunset as a classroom assignment.

"My teacher looked at it and said, 'Wow, this is beautiful,'" Agha said. "That stayed with me."

"Intersections" will be on display March 19 through May 8 in the East Wing Gallery on the first floor of the museum. The sculpture is among the "200 Years" public art installations, all of which will be on view free to the public.

The "200 Years of Indiana Art: A Cultural Legacy" exhibit, a signature project of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission, runs March 19 through Oct. 2 at the Indiana State Museum, 650 W. Washington St. Museum hours are Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $8.50 to $13. For more information, call 317-232-1637.

An opening reception for "200 Years of Indiana Art: A Cultural Legacy," takes place from 6 to 9 p.m., Friday, March 18. Limited tickets, $45 each, will be available for purchase at the door.

For interviews with Agha, contact Diane Brown at or 317-274-2195.

ArtPrize 2014 visitors experience "Intersections." Photo courtesy of ArtPrize.

ArtPrize 2014 visitors experience "Intersections." Photo courtesy of ArtPrize.

Print Quality Photo

"Intersections." Photo courtesy of ArtPrize.

"Intersections." Photo courtesy of ArtPrize.

Print Quality Photo

Diane Brown