Anila Quayyum Agha’s newest work, on view at Talley Dunn in Dallas, emerges as a small, quiet spectacle that operates with intelligence and sensuous resonance, and it deploys shimmer and shadow to deliver some of the best art I’ve witnessed — at any time or on any continent. In part, this is due to the fact that it inflects space with a distinct reminder that a gracious cosmography is not only possible, but perpetually operative. The show, titled Itinerant Shadows, conjures a meditative state, and it manages to do so with big “B” Beauty.
The show offers a array of mixed media pieces that are gorgeous. The initial heart-stoppers are four suspended cubes fashioned from lacquered steel that’s been laser-cut into what feels like timeless motifs, and the series is mounted on the gallery wall just to the right of the gallery’s entrance. It’s stunningly lit, and casts shadows on the wall that are reminiscent of Islamic geometric patterns. They continuously reverberate and re-constellate your perception of them. And yet, they can also evoke the cages that have recently made headlines.
Their beauty causes us to reflect upon interior versus exterior / solid versus void / dark versus light, and all other binary ways of perceiving the world. In fact, Itinerant Shadows serves as a reminder that of all major works — literary, philosophical or critical — it is perhaps Shakespeare’s King Lear that explores most carefully the nature of sight. In that play, vision is an operative trope, and it is, ironically, a blind man who delineates our intersection with the visual universe. When the character Gloucester is questioned how he sees the world, he replies with three memorable words: “I see feelingly.”
Gloucester cuts to the quick. He informs us that it is our internal senses, so to speak, that announce the world — they create a place of (in)sight that engages us in ways that invoke the numinous. Here, Agha’s work reminds us, yet again, that there is no more apt conduit to how we succumb to the allure of both the world and its presentation than via visual art.
In a darkened room of the show, a suspended circular piece flares with brilliance, and instead of describing it, I suggest that you see it yourself, and open yourself fully — and that you do so “feelingly.” This exhibition is majestic, and Agha, a Pakistani-American artist who’s currently a professor at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, is nothing less than a national treasure. Her show merits more than one look, and it’s one I’ll remember for decades.
On view through March 23, 2019 at Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas