Alia Ali: Project Series 53 presents four bodies of recent work by Yemeni-Bosnian-US artist Alia Ali that explore themes of diaspora, migration, and identity through the lens of Afro- and Yemeni Futurism. Informed by the artist’s own transnational and multilingual upbringing, these works use visual language—photography, textiles, videos, and installations— to create a new lexicon unfettered from the colonial violence inherent to language.
In the Benton’s lobby, the حب / Love installation features the Arabic word for love— حب—repeated across photographs of veiled figures and the hand-painted lobby wall, subverting the stereotypes of Arabic that link the language exclusively to geopolitical conflicts. Theحب / Love installation is a gesture of linguistic reclamation.
The abstract and layered film مهجر / Mahjar is the central component of Ali’s النجم الاحمر / The Red Star installation. The film—which includes footage recorded by the artist, found footage, sounds recorded on Mars by NASA, interviews from individuals of the Yemeni diaspora, news clippings, and music by Yemeni musicians (including Israeli-born Yemeni icon Ofra Haza)—tells two stories: the present-day reality of violence enacted upon Yemen by outsiders, and a radically imagined future in outer space, inspired by a Yemeni myth about the descendants of the Queen of Saba’a/Sheba inheriting the Red Star, Mars. Influenced by the artist and poet Etel Adnan, الاحمر / The Red Star consists of hand-painted imagined characters inspired by the Arabic, Hebrew, and Sabean languages. Addressing the origin and history of the humanitarian and political crisis in Yemen, the related film Conflict Is More Profitable Than Peace (2019-ongoing) can be viewed here.
The exhibition also includes photographs from Ali’s FLUX series, in which she draws the viewer’s attention to textiles as documents where politics, economies, and histories collide. Figures enveloped in wax-print fabrics contrast against vivid backgrounds of hyper-optic motifs, drawing on Ali’s research into Dutch colonial trade routes of Javanese wax-resist textiles.
This exhibition is the first installment of the Project Series at the new museum and will be accompanied by a publication and programmed events. The exhibition is curated by Senior Curator Rebecca McGrew, with Independent Curator Hannah Grossman.