Anila Quayyum Agha
This is NOT A Refuge

Site specific installation at Kansas City Art Institute Rowland Plaza, Kansas City, MO
August 4 – October 25, 2018

Working in cross-disciplinary fashion with architectural structures and motifs, Pakistan-born, Indianapolis-based artist Anila Quayyum Agha creates structures that meld architecturally specific references to themes of global politics, cultural identity, mass media and social/gender roles. Mixing reflections and shadows with solid forms, Agha’s artwork aspires simultaneously to be perceptually soothing and conceptually challenging.

Reflecting on the global plight of war refugees, her new work for Kansas City is titled This is NOT a Refuge. Loss of identity, and of the sense of self associated with family, hearth, and land may never be overcome when affected by war, natural disasters, or economics of duress. The human condition demands survival; people flee the damnation of war zones, abject poverty, and displacement due to calamitous wars or climate change. Few leave willingly. To migrate is to disrupt their lives and loved ones, to seek safety in foreign lands where frequently one finds hostility and more hardship. Leaving one’s home is akin to severing a part of one’s body, which is lost, missed often, and never forgotten.

Artist statement: The often-overlooked sad truth is the lack of responsibility displayed by the first world to the countries that were plundered for their resources. The aftermath of such political or economic destabilization creates asymmetrical power dynamics that can dominate regions for generations. The dead and devastated are collateral damage left behind to manage on their own or with their overburdened governments. In this new architectural project, I engage with concerns weighing on my own consciousness and that of our global communities which are often revealed through our relationships to the larger humanity; life and death, economic status, race, and gender, revealing our place in the hierarchy of life on earth.

The project This is NOT a Refuge reflects on the complex issues that result from displacement associated with people seeking refuge through immigration to the great global north. This project explores the communal sense of loss experienced on a global scale, of loved ones, identities, homes, and countries for myriad people across the world ravaged by the atrocities of war, displacement, and political oppression. Here, a shelter beckons like a mirage, beautiful from afar, shining warmth at night and welcoming travelers who have experienced immense trials on their journeys to safety. Yet on closer observation, the form provides neither shelter from the elements nor privacy from prying eyes. As the viewer sits to reflect inside or walks around the sculpture to contemplate the passage of the sun denoting time and its swift passing, they may be reminded of the painful separation of families at our southern border. Maybe the audience will observe the transparency of sorrow and its ability to reflect and inflict light and darkness on the lives of many people across the world seeking sanctuary. So too, they may think of the homeless population closer to home within our own country.

For those who have escaped the horrific circumstances and found haven, I applaud them. And wish god-speed to the others who are still toiling at the borders, crossing deserts, mountains and water, risking everything to find refuge. The second chances given through resettlement in new lands may provide respite for the few who have found safe havens, but they too will always carry with them a deep sense of loss. And may we all find compassion too, humility, and kindness and not bemoan the loss to our own humanity by turning a blind eye.