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Blue and neon red paint with multiple projections

Alia Ali
Project Series 53

On View September 1, 2020 – May 29, 2021

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.

Conflict is More Profitable Than Peace, 2019
Video, color, sound
17 min

Conflict is More Profitable Than Peace is a photographed binder translated into time-based media documenting the ongoing war in Yemen. It attempts to unravel the intricate web of facts and players that have generated the complicated state of affairs from which one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time has emerged. By naming both victims and culprits the research presents a less distracted image of “who” while still pursuing the question of “why?” Rather than redacting, the highlighted research manifests into an evidentiary mapping drawing attention to those who hide behind black ink and thus, revealing a different panorama as a testimony to the mounting evidence of war crimes. In order to sustain itself, my adopted country, the United States of America, depends on the destruction of my native country, Yemen, and others like it. The closest term to describe this feeling must be a relative to cannibalism.

Gestures emerge, such as the photographic series UNDER THREAD, auto portraits, where I am both a passive and active participant, subject and photographer, victim and culprit. The thread is significant as it is drawn from religious and mythical histories. In Islam, while fleeing from his enemies, Prophet Mohammed seeks shelter in a cave. Upon entering, a spider weaves an intricate web across the entrance so that when his enemies catch up to him, they are mesmerized by it. They come to the conclusion that had he been in the cave the web would have been broken. They continue on and the Prophet is saved. It is for this reason that we must never kill spiders as they are considered بركة, blessing. However, in order to leave the cave to migrate onward, the Prophet breaks the very thing that protected him.

Catalogue cover for Alia Ali's exhibition with glossed Arabic writing on green and black design

Alia Ali: Project Series 53

Introduction by Rebecca McGrew and Daphnide Toussaint, essays by Alia Ali and Michael Rakowitz. Design by Kimberly Varella of Content Object with Sam Wagner and David Evans Frantz

This publication is supported in part by the Pasadena Art Alliance.


Book 1:

حب / Love, 2020
Mixed media installation with five pigment prints on Photo Rag paper
with UV protective laminate, mounted on aluminum Dibond
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Peter Sillem

 مهجر / Mahjar, 2020
Multi-channel digital video projection
Color, sound, 14 min. (loop)
Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Peter Sillem

 النجم الاحمر / The Red Star, 2020
Mixed media installation

Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Peter Sillem

Book 2:

Conflict Is More Profitable Than Peace, 2019–ongoing
Stills from digital video, color, sound, 18 min.



Alia Ali عاليه علي is a Yemeni-Bosnian-US multi-media artist. Having traveled to sixty-seven countries, lived in and between seven, and grown up among five languages, her most comfortable mode of communication is through photography, video, and installation. Her travels have led her to process the world through interactive experiences and the belief that the damage of translation and interpretation of written language has dis-served particular communities, resulting in the threat of their exclusion, rather than a means of understanding. Ali's work reflects on the politics of contested notions of linguistics, identity, borders, universality, colonization, mental/physical confinement, and the inherent dualism that exists in each of them.

Her work has been featured in the Financial Times, Le Monde, Vogue, and Hyperallergic. Ali has won numerous awards and has exhibited internationally at Galerie Peter Sillem in Frankfurt, Galerie Siniya 28 in Marrakech, Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai, PhotoLondon, 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, the Lianzhou Photo Festival in China, the Stedelijk Museum Schiedam in the Netherlands, the Katzen Museum of Art in Washington DC, the New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College. Ali also serves on the board of Clockshop in Los Angeles, California.

Alia Ali lives and works in Los Angeles and Marrakech, and is currently in residency at the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program (RAiR) in Roswell, New Mexico.

For signed copies of catalogue by the artist, please visit Alia Ali's website // @studio.alia.ali

Curators and Sponsor

The exhibition is curated by Senior Curator Rebecca McGrew, with Independent Curator Hannah Grossman

This project is supported in part by the Pasadena Art Alliance.