Project Series 53: Alia Ali
Alia Ali’s photographs and multimedia works reflect on identity, physical borders, mental and physical spaces of confinement, and the dualism inherent in the lived experience. Taking patterns and textiles as their primary motif, Ali’s projects address histories of colonization, imperialism, sexism, and racism.
In Cast No Evil (2015–16), Ali’s photographs portray life-sized, fully veiled figures wrapped in layers of fabric against contrasting textile backgrounds. These anonymous portraits explore how the veil can be a statement of devotion, sign of oppression, or expression of power. Through the series, Ali invites us as viewers to analyze our own perceptions of inclusion and exclusion and think about systemically formed, exclusionary ideologies that inhibit our understanding of others, such as intuition, fear, discrimination, and stereotypes. The artist asks who is the subject—the one who imposes the standards, the decision maker, the included, or the excluded?
In Ali’s Borderland photographic series (2017–ongoing), she depicts artisans from eleven regions of the world. She covers their bodies and faces with culturally specific, handmade textiles in order to question the ways society judges one’s identity and decides who is allowed to belong. Ali examines the very human trait of processing our surroundings through unconscious categorization—separating good from evil, familiar from unfamiliar, threat from safety, and alien from native. By interrogating the binary of home and exile, she extends the themes of duality to questioning the moment in which, in the artist’s words, “the mysterious becomes apparent, freedom becomes restraint, and illusion becomes reality.”
For the exhibition “Project Series 53: Alia Ali,” the artist will produce a site-specific installation at the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College. This exhibition will be 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.
About the Artist
Alia Ali, a Yemeni-Bosnian-American artist, holds a BA in Studio Art and Middle Eastern Studies from Wellesley College and is currently enrolled in the MFA program in Photography at the California Institute of the Arts. Recently, she has had solo exhibitions at Blue Sky Gallery, in Portland, Oregon; Galerie Peter Sillem, in Frankfurt, Germany; and Galerie Siniya 28 in Marrakech, Morocco. Her work has been featured at Photo London and the 1:54 Contemporary Art Fair. She has lectured and participated in numerous panels internationally, including at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.