INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Art experts and the public often disagree over what is great, but consensus over the weekend brought $300,000 to Anila Quayyum Agha of Indianapolis.
Agha, who teaches at the Herron School of Art and Design, was the first artist ever at the ArtPrize competition in Grand Rapids, Mich., to capture first place in the contest’s popular review and critical review.
ArtPrize, in its sixth year, is an unusual, citywide 19-day art show open to any artist. Artists have to procure a location for the piece. Agha’s, an installation called Intersections, got a choice spot at the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Powered by a single light bulb that cast intricate shadows, it transformed an empty, white-walled room into a temple of sorts.
More than $500,000 in prize money is put up each year by the billionaire DeVos family, whose patriarch, Richard DeVos, co-founded Amway.
The two big awards are the Public Vote Grand Prize, worth $200,000, and the Juried Grand Prize, worth the same. Intersections won the Public Vote outright. The expert judges were torn between it and Sonya Clark’s The Haircraft Project – a series of canvas weaves of hair designs plus photographs of the hair designs re-created by African-American hairdressers – so the two artists split the jury prize.
Agha, 49, could not say which award meant more to her. “On one hand, I’m a professional artist and academic, and to be juried by your peers, it shows you have done well in the field,” she told The Indianapolis Star. “On the other hand, the public vote is intensely gratifying. The people, even though maybe half of them may not be familiar with art or be museumgoers, they were enthralled by the installation. They told me it had opened their minds to something new.”
“Anila’s piece was like walking into a mystical temple,” said Travis DiNicola, who runs Indianapolis’ adult literacy program IndyReads and who has attended ArtPrize the past few years. “It had a real sense of being sacred. People lowered their voices.”
Intersections is a 6-foot cube, its wooden sides cut into geometric patterns. Lit from the inside, the cube casts shadows more than 30 feet. Agha still owns the cube but has agreed to let it stay in Grand Rapids for a year. After that, she would like to see it exhibited in museums in other cities.
She said in a written statement that the piece “takes the seminal experience of exclusion as a woman from a space of community and creativity such as a Mosque and translates the complex expressions of both wonder and exclusion that have been my experience while growing up in Pakistan.”
Agha was born in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1965 and raised there. She came to the U.S. in 1999, to Dallas, and earned a master’s degree in fine arts in 2004 at the University of North Texas. She came to Indianapolis in 2008 to teach drawing at Herron.
She made Intersections using a laser she bought with a $35,000 grant from Indiana University. She made it in her studio, a space she fashioned from her two-car garage behind her house in Windsor Park on Indianapolis’ Near Eastside. She lives there with her 20-year-old son, Rafae Agha, who raps under the name Kid Kaliber.
She said she would use the $300,000 to pay off her mortgage and use any left over on future art projects. The money is taxed.
This year, 400,000 people attended ArtPrize. The event gets people talking about art.
Agha has tenure at Herron and expects to stay in Indianapolis for the long haul. She praised Indianapolis’ museums, mentioning the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Indiana State Museum and the Eiteljorg Museum by name. But she lamented the dearth of commercial galleries here.
Galleries, of course, need buyers, and Indianapolis has too few of them, in Agha’s opinion. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but my wish is more (local) people would be interested in collecting,” she said. “Now, most people who can afford to buy art go to Chicago and New York, and so their own artists are not doing so well. I would love to sell my work in Indianapolis, but it doesn’t happen very often.”
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com
Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
ADDITIONAL IMAGE OF NOTE