Claremont, CA—The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College announces the most recent exhibition—and 53rd installment—in its renowned Project Series. Alia Ali: Project Series 53, through May 16, 2021, is a dazzling multimedia exhibition in multiple parts, all of them revolving around Ali’s central concerns of language, identity, colonization, and the limits of dualities. An artist who has traveled to sixty-seven countries, lived in and between seven countries, and grown up among five languages, Ali is uniquely positioned to interrogate the concepts of borders, globalism, and reclamation. Although access to the exhibition is limited due to current Los Angeles County COVID-19 restrictions, the artworks are fully installed and available for media viewing by appointment. The exhibition also includes a video, Conflict Is More Profitable than Peace, which is accessible to all on YouTube and the Benton’s website, and a unique artist’s book that functions as the show’s catalogue. Alia Ali: Project Series 53 is part of the Feminist Art Coalition.
Alia Ali: Project Series 53 is a multi-faceted exhibition with four components. The first, حب / Love, is installed in the Benton’s lobby, ready to greet visitors when the museum is able to open. Saturated in color, it features the Arabic word for love repeated across photographs of fully veiled figures as well as painted directly on the lobby 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.
Further inside the museum is Ali’s installation النجم الاحمر / The Red Star, which consists of a film inside a larger installation, together forming “a letter from the future,” in the artist’s words. Ali’s abstract and layered film, مهجر / Mahjar, uses sound, photographs of historic artifacts, and video clips of dancers to tell two stories: the present-day reality of violence enacted upon Yemen by outsiders and a potential future in outer space, inspired by a Yemeni myth about the descendants of the Queen of Saba’a/Sheba inheriting the Red Star, Mars. Throughout, the film uses the motif of the spider to represent healing and hope and to emphasize the literal and symbolic importance of language, textiles, and weaving. Surrounding the projection is النجم الاحمر / The Red Star, an immersive environment composed of hand-painted imagined characters rooted in the Arabic, Hebrew, and Sabean languages. The film and the installation—again highly saturated in color and hypnotic in effect—are inspired by the artist, poet, and Arab Futurist Etel Adnan and her book The Arab Apocalypse (1989). As in the opening حب / Love installation, Ali deconstructs and reconstructs language, framing its reclamation and connection to culture within its visual power.
The third element of the exhibition comprises work from the artist’s FLUX photographic series, which is based on her extensive research into the Dutch colonial trade routes of Javanese wax-resist textiles (a specific and ancient technique). In these FLUX images, figures are completely enveloped in wax-print fabrics and then set against vivid and “hyper-optic” patterns. The collision of colors and patterns in the images reflects the collision of politics, economics, and history in textiles themselves.
The final component of Alia Ali: Project Series 53 is available to all: her video Conflict Is More Profitable than Peace. This video addresses the origin and history of the humanitarian and political crisis in Yemen as well as the tentacles of that crisis that snake through American defense companies and ultimately the American taxpayer. It can be viewed on YouTube as well as the museum’s website.
The exhibition is accompanied by an intricately designed and lavishly produced artist’s book, for sale on the museum’s website. Designed by Kimberly Varella of Content Object with Sam Wagner and David Evans Frantz, it features essays by Ali, the artist Michael Rakowitz, and Rebecca McGrew and Daphnide Toussaint of the Benton Museum of Art.
Alia Ali: Project Series 53 reveals an artist deeply immersed in the issues of colonialism, violence, history, language, and diaspora. The multiple layers of the both the exhibition and its constituent works reflect Ali’s belief in the conceptual complexity of geopolitical conflict and the price exacted by such conflicts on individuals. Her clear-eyed approach to these conflicts is not without hope, though, and is rooted in awareness, acknowledgment, and activism.
About the Artist
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 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 and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Ali also serves on the board of Clockshop in Los Angeles.
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.
About the Exhibition
Alia Ali: Project Series 53 is the first installment of the Project Series at the new Benton Museum of Art. It is curated by Benton senior curator Rebecca McGrew and independent curator Hannah Grossman with Daphnide Toussaint, post-baccalaureate curatorial assistant. The exhibition is supported by the Pasadena Art Alliance and the Eva Cole and Clyde Matson Memorial Fund. The accompanying publication is supported in part by the Pasadena Art Alliance.
This exhibition is part of the Feminist Art Coalition.
About the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College
Now housed in the new Benton Museum of Art designed by Machado Silvetti and Gensler, Pomona College’s collection of art numbers 15,000 objects, including Italian Renaissance paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation; works on paper, including a first edition print series by Francisco Goya given by Norton Simon; and works in various media produced in Southern California in the twentieth century. In keeping with Pomona College’s reputation as a leading center of the visual arts, the collection also includes works by such esteemed alumni as Chris Burden (’69), Marcia Hafif (’51), Helen Pashgian (’56), Peter Shelton (’73), and James Turrell (’65). Recognized globally for its commitment to contemporary art, the museum is the home of The Project Series, which has featured more than 50 contemporary Southern California artists since it began in 1999. Through its collaboration with students and faculty, the museum encourages active learning and creative exploration across all disciplines of study within the liberal arts context. For more information, call (909) 621-8283 or visit pomona.edu/benton.