Alia Ali: حب / Love (2020) is a major new installation by the Yemeni-Bosnian-US artist. The installation was part of the exhibition Alia Ali: Project Series 53 (September 1, 2020–May 29, 2020).
Commissioned by the Benton and installed in the lobby, the حب / Love installation features the Arabic word for love— حب—repeated across photographs of veiled figures and the hand-painted wall. With this act of linguistic reclamation, Ali subverts the stereotypes of the Arabic language that link it solely to geopolitical conflict. Layered into the folds of the veils, the language becomes a pattern and the textiles become a language, underscoring how motifs function both visually and linguistically.
The artist notes in her essay in the accompanying publication, “The Arabic words طالب (roman: talib / student) and مدرسة (roman: madrassa / school) have been abducted and propagandized by the US media to mean terrorist and religious training school. As a gesture of linguistic reclamation, the photographic series حب / Love (roman: hub) presents the Arabic word for love to non-Arabophones to recognize, read, and spread.”
In her work, Ali explores themes of diaspora, colonialism, violence, history, migration, and identity and Afro- and Yemeni Futurism. Informed by the artist’s own transnational and multilingual upbringing, theحب / Love installation reflects Ali’s belief in the conceptual complexity of geopolitical conflict and the price exacted by such conflicts on individuals. Ali’s clear-eyed approach to these conflicts is not without hope, though, and is rooted in awareness, acknowledgment, and activism.