Imagine South Asia at Peabody Essex Museum Feb. 6-7

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The BBC film crew on location in Northern Pakistan: left to right: Spike Geilinger (camera), Khalid Waseem (fixer), Hugh Thomson (series director), Benedict Taylor (sound) and Sona Datta, PEM Curator of South Asian Art. Photo by Ben Taylor, Tern TV.

SALEM, MA–Artist Anila Quayyum Agha’s (Pakistan, U.S.) life and work embodies the idea of intersection, transcending the boundaries of race, religion, gender and geography. Crossing boundaries, both real and imagined, has permeated the artist’s consciousness throughout her life.

Growing up under the strict conventions of gender that inform Pakistani society, Agha felt excluded while her male peers enjoyed a conviviality engendered by the environment of Pakistan’s exclusively male mosques.

The BBC film crew on location in Northern Pakistan: left to right: Spike Geilinger (camera), Khalid Waseem (fixer), Hugh Thomson (series director), Benedict Taylor (sound) and Sona Datta, PEM Curator of South Asian Art. Photo by Ben Taylor, Tern TV.
The BBC film crew on location in Northern Pakistan: left to right: Spike Geilinger
(camera), Khalid Waseem (fixer), Hugh Thomson (series director), Benedict Taylor
(sound) and Sona Datta, PEM Curator of South Asian Art. Photo by Ben Taylor, Tern TV.

It was not until a trip to the Alhambra Palace in Granada — the intersection of the Islamic and Christian worlds in 9th-century Spain — that Agha fully realized the emotional toll of this gender-based alienation. Excluded as a woman in Pakistan, Agha then experienced exclusion as a Muslim after arriving in America.

The sense of alienation, and the desire to transcend it, informs every aspect of her work.

In Intersections, a 2013 ArtPrize winner, Agha transforms the traditional Islamic geometric motifs found at the Alhambra Palace to create an intense and enticing space that embraces all visitors. A single suspended lightbulb activates an intricate laser-cut, black structure, casting patterned shadows that abstractly reference Islamic filigree across all surfaces of the gallery. But Intersections is not a work about Islam. It is an ever-expanding meditation on the nature of boundaries, categorization and alienation.

Intersections also evokes the power of what is mutual and common to us all to transcend the seemingly impenetrable borders of race, religion, gender and culture that so often prevent connections and exchange.

Join Peabody Essex Museum for a weekend to explore South Asia’s diverse artistic heritage through a contemporary prism of art, music, film, discussion and dance.

Saturday, February 6, and Sunday, February 7
Included with museum admission | Made possible by the Lowell Institute

This special weekend marks the opening of the new exhibition Intersections complemented by evocative performance art and the screening of the critically acclaimed BBC documentary series Treasures of the Indus, written and narrated by Sona Datta, PEM’s Curator of South Asian Art.

Throughout the weekend, artist Mithu Sen (India) will showcase a performance piece specially commissioned for PEM. Sen uses the erotic, the beautiful and the grotesque (with a generous dose of
humor) to disarm our notions of social decorum and gender stereotypes. Her provocative work is inspired by the basic question of what it means to be a woman in India today.

Faiza Butt (Pakistan, U.K.) will lead discussions about being a British Pakistani, a wife, a mother and an artist. Butt uses an intricate labor-intensive technique to render complex and beautiful painted vistas that seduce and challenge our preconceived notions about South Asia.

The weekend will also premiere Treasures of the Indus. The documentary takes the viewer on a journey from the ancient Buddhist lands of Northern Pakistan, through the jaw-dropping Islamic architecture of Mughal India and the Taj Mahal and on to the great Hindu temple cities of southern India.

The series covers three of the world’s major religions: Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, showing the diversity of South Asia — a vast landscape that, over 5,000 years, has produced some of the world’s greatest artistic achievements.

Hugh Thomson, the BBC series director, will join Datta, Intersections artist Anila Quayyum Agha, Butt and Sen, along with a host of other cultural collaborators to create short, lively discussions around themes raised in each episode and invite visitors to explore how contemporary art can address the pressing issues of today.

The weekend also offers a workshop called Sacred Spaces: Writing About Place with Agha in conjunction with the Tannery Series.

Visit pem.org/calendar for a full schedule of events.

Dance Party

Saturday, February 6 | 9 pm–midnight
Members $15, nonmembers $20, students $10
Advanced tickets preferred; limited tickets at the door
Reservations by February 3
21+; cash bar

Dance the night away with renowned London DJ Benedict Taylor’s intoxicating mix of music inflected with South Asia’s many musical traditions — from traditional ragas and the ecstasy of Sufi poetry set to music.

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