Alia Ali is a Yemeni-Bosnian-American artist based in Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Marrakech. With a practice spanning photography, video, and installation, Ali's research into language, diasporic identities, geopolitical histories, and imperialism translates into compelling expressions of Yemeni futurism.Read More
Born to a family of linguists, the artist cites extensive travel and her experience of multiple languages from an early age as having a significant influence on her practice.
Ali holds a BA in Studio Art and Middle Eastern studies from Wellesley College (2009). She graduated with an MFA in Photography and Media from California Institute of the Arts in 2020.
Ali explores the impact of translation and interpretation of language, and the power of language in relation to culture, identity, and colonisation, through a geopolitical lens. She states: 'My work explores cultural binaries, challenges culturally sanctioned oppression, and confronts the dualistic barriers of conflicting notions of gender, politics, media and citizenship.'
Ali expresses the complexities of diasporic identity and the intersections of colonisation, migration, and imperialism in her photographic practice. In her series of staged portraits such as BORDERLAND (2017–ongoing), FLOW (2021), and INDIGO (2021), the artist explores identity through Indigenous textiles and textile production. Travelling widely to learn as much as possible about these textiles, including the patterns, pigments, dyeing, weaving, and the context of their production and makers, Ali subsequently produces photographs that feature anonymous figures draped in these brightly patterned fabrics, often against the backdrop of further clashing textiles. Dizzyingly kaleidescopic, Ali's images problematise the optic beauty of the materials through exposing their conflict-laden origins, and consider ideas of camouflage, erasure, and identity.
The Red Star (2020) brought together multiple works contemplating the ongoing conflict in Yemen, and the Yemeni diaspora. The exhibition's title refers to the country's socialist history as the People's Democratic Republic of South Yemen, but also to a significant Yemeni myth, where the descendants of Belquis, Queen of Saba'a/Sheba, inherit Mars, the Red Star. Ali states: 'Talking to Yemenis in the diaspora, I realised the story of the Red Star that we're told as children is something we all share. I thought this was profound: the idea that there could be something cosmic that pulls us together.'
Featuring video works Conflict Is More Profitable Than Peace (2019) and Mahjar (2020–2022), Ali incorporated references to the U.S. and Saudi Arabi in fragments, such as clips of the U.S. national anthem and photographs of Yemeni objects in American museums. In spite of these references, through which Ali acknowledges the U.S. and Saudi Arabia's impact on Yemen, the artist retains a sense of autonomy in presenting her vision of Yemeni identity, tradition, and history. Through The Red Star, Ali reclaims storytelling as a means to reconstruct a collective identity for diasporic Yemeni people, and envisages a more hopeful future for a community facing ongoing humanitarian crises.
Writing for ArtReview, Nadia Beard states: 'If the attempted colonial erasure of Africa's past gave rise to Afrofuturism, Ali's The Red Star might be thought of as a kind of Yemeni-futurism: present reality is dominated by an oppressive force; any thoughts of a future must be reimagined shorn of these. It's a kind of futurism that would distinguish itself from the lens of Arab Futurism, which, Ali says, flattens the particularities of life in cultures and communities across Arabia.'
Selected Alia Ali solo exhibitions include FLOW, Galerie Peter Sillem, Frankfurt (2021); Mot(if), 193 Gallery, Paris (2021); Vocal Motifs, Contour Gallery, Rotterdam (2021); Cartographies of Pattern, Foto Relevance, Houston (2021); Patterned Paradigms, Octavia Gallery, New Orleans (2021); Refracted Futures, Roswell Museum and Art Center, New Mexico (2021); Alia Ali: Project Series 53, Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College, California (2020); FLUX, New Orleans Museum of Art/Galerie Peter Sillem/Intersect Aspen (2020); Hommage, Galerie Siniya28, Marrakech (2020).
Selected group exhibitions featuring Alia Ali include Woven Tongue, Eastside Projects, Birmingham (2021); Intersect 21, Palm Springs, California (2021); Reflections: contemporary art of the Middle East and North Africa, British Museum, London (2021); Phantoms, Ruins, and Reflections: Contemporary Art from Yemen, European Union High Commission, Brussels (2020); Modest Fashion, Stedelijk Museum Schiedam (2019).
Ali has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Creative Activism Award, Cultures of Resistence (2021); Photographer of the Year and 1st Place: Fine Art, Chromatic Awards (2019); Clyde & Co. Artist Award for the Middle East and North Africa (2018); Flash Forward Emerging Photographers Award, Magenta Foundation (2017).
The artist has held international residencies including at the Arab American National Museum, Michigan (2021); Roswell Artist-in-Residence Programme (RaiR), Roswell Museum and Art Center (2020); Blue Sky Oregon Center for the Photographic Arts (2018); Scattergood-Moore Artist-in-Residence, Dana Hall School, Massachusetts (2018); as well as residencies in Vietnam, Japan, Mexico, and Morocco.
Alia Ali's works are held in collections worldwide, including the Anderson Museum of Art, Roswell, New Mexico; Benton Museum of Art, Pomona College of Art, Claremont, California; The British Museum, London; DekaBank, Frankfurt; KRC, Amsterdam; New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana; Princeton University, New Jersey; and the Tucson Museum of Art, Arizona.
Misong Kim | Ocula | 2021