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20/20 meet the artists: Aqsa Arif

  • Written byKatie Moss
  • Published date 13 December 2022
Aqsa Arif, Within her Window of Decadence, 2021, laser print on canvas paper | Courtesy of the artist

    In September, UAL announced the eight emerging and mid-career artists in the first of 2 cohorts of 20/20: a national commissioning and network project directly investing in the careers of a new generation of ethnically diverse artists.

    20/20 was launched in November 2021 by UAL Decolonising Arts Institute, working with a network of 20 UK public collections, museum and gallery partners, and with funding from Freelands FoundationArts Council England’s National Lottery Project Grants Programme and UAL.

    We caught up with Aqsa Arif about being selected for the first cohort of artists for 20/20. Her residency is taking place at Kelingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow.

    Tell us about your artistic work, discipline & background

    "I use the interdisciplinary mediums of poetry, printmaking, film and installation to construct spaces in which I explore the psychological experience of resettlement in the western culture, identity disruption and the process of healing through archetypal self-individuation. My line of thought derives from a need to express personal and intergenerational trauma through the lens of fantasy and fictional worldbuilding. I use characters and avatars from my abstracted poetic narratives to immerse the audience within the unconscious, the uncomfortable and the disparate.

    "As a Pakistani refugee to Scotland, I experienced life with the split of two cultural identities. This polarity underpins my work and is manifested through my use of film, which initially helped me navigate a new culture and now serves in the ongoing exploration of my inner and outer worlds."

    Why did you apply for the 20/20 project?

    "I applied for the 20/20 project because it will give me the opportunity to highlight and give space to the South Asian narratives which, thus far, have been neglected as ornamentalism within the museum. This is a chance to expand and uncover these histories with more time, resources and in collaboration with local South Asian communities and the museum. It was also an opportunity for me to develop my artistic practice by giving my work a platform within Kelvingrove as well as further afield with the partner institutions.

    "The opportunity to be represented in twenty collections across the UK is truly exciting as it will provide me with the institutional support that is necessary to grow my artistic ambitions. The 20/20 project came at a vital point in my practice as I do not currently have any work within a collection so this would help me broaden my reach and gain further collaborations outside of Glasgow."

    What conversations, thoughts or feelings do you hope to encourage amongst your audiences during your residency?

    "I want to uncover and share the narratives of neglected South Asian objects within the museum to delve deeper into their rich histories that can kick-start conversations and renewed interest in those objects.

    "There are rich cultural traditions, folklore and mythology surrounding them and the communities who crafted them which deserve to be highlighted for visitors as well as for the South Asian diaspora within Glasgow. I want to immerse the audience within these erased histories of the colonial empire, shifting the power dynamics to create space for a new dialogue and perspective within the collections at Kelvingrove, which it is sorely lacking.

    "There is a strong and visible South Asian community and presence in Glasgow. This should be reflected and visible in Kelvingrove:  in its research – past, present, future – and its storytelling. My work will aim to highlight those narratives and tackle the themes of institutional amnesia, identity disruption, fetishization, ornamentalism, colonial trauma and violence."

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