Alia Ali is a Yemeni-Bosnian-American photographer and visual artist based mostly in Marrakesh in Morocco. She processes the world through interactive experiences such as travel, taste, touch and sound and communicates it through her most comfortable mode of communication – image. She feeds her imagination for artistic purposes through her personal exposure to the world, and as a result creates collected documentary-styled images and conceptual works of her own through multi-sensory media, namely photography and installation.
Alia’s current photographic series “Cast No Evil” strikes a dualistic chord in itself; on the one hand, the artist is pleading with her audience and on the other the title suggests a tone of authority. She engages the viewer of these works to analyze their subjective perception in regards to the relationship between inclusion and exclusion. The notion of the immediate duality that occurs in any given instant is also highlighted.
“To have one, you must have the other for either to exist. Understanding inclusion requires a critical view on what it means to be excluded. Does inclusion mean acceptance? If so, does this definition lend itself to exclusion meaning rejection? Or do they both mean different points on the spectrum of tolerance? “
Are we conscious of these two sides of actions in our everyday living, especially with the constant news of intolerance around the world? And are there only two sides, what about the infinite possibilities in between. She makes room for us to find our own space in between the two extremes.
In her TEDxMarrakesh talk in 2015, titled I SPEAK IN IMAGE, Alia states “Where there is death there is life, where there is one there is the other.” The theme of looking at duality in such a way extends to all her works and is reoccurring by the way in which she questions the moment that “the mysterious becomes apparent, restraint becomes freedom, the underneath becomes the above and illusion becomes reality.”
The characters in “Cast No Evil” are called – Cludes, giving power to the spectator to decide the prefix. Is what they are looking at someone who is included, excluded, or secluded? What power identifies each and how can we tell? Or is that the point? Do we simply place our own impressions onto what we look at and therefore read ourselves into these -Cludes? The characters in this series are wrapped in layers of fabric that shield them from interrelating with anything beyond the material and yet the artist succeeds in presenting these forms and portraits in a way that we can fully relate with them.
By using fabric, Alia questions the “fabricated barriers” in the society that inhibit the incorporation of others? Her use of the word “fabric” in this series takes a more metaphoric trajectory. What are these barriers, and perhaps the most basic one to question is gender, geography, politics and class.
This interrogative style in Alia’s approach towards articulating her thoughts sends her audience into frenzy as she is constantly engaging their minds in her creative process. At the exhibition of this series at the Marrakech Biennale as part of a Swiss-Moroccan Collective, called the KE’CH Collective, Alia created an interactive space, where a room in a traditional Moroccan riad was entirely disassembled, enveloped in fabric and then reassembled to encompass the spectator into a space with a layer of fabric between them with the image and the rest of the world. Impressions of the veil, the womb, a confined space, a dream, a black hole in which the spectator could shut themselves to be alone with the images, anonymous and yet entirely free to do what they want in that space. Furthermore, the spectator could also control the amount and direction of the light flow into the space by opening and closing the doors and windows. This sort of mental exercise allows the audience into the thought process via an engaging interactive process which brings about a perfect blend of interactive and stimulating art and the acts of it.
Looking into Alia’s multi-national background, one finds how her exposure with many cultures influences her perception of the world and matters in it. Having traveled to fifty-three countries, lived in seven and grew up in a multi-lingual household, her aesthetic interests stem from people, places, and the processes which unite and divide us all at once. Her work reflects on the politics and poetics of contested notions surrounding the topics of identity, physical borders, universality, mental/physical spaces of confinement, and the inherent dualism that exists in everything.
Alia is a graduate of the United World College of the Atlantic (UWCAC) and holds a BA in Studio Art and Middle Eastern Studies from Wellesley College. Her studio is based between New Orleans and Marrakech. Her recent work has been featured at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Marrakech Biennale as part of the Swiss-Moroccan KE’CH
This feature is a part of our new focus on photography through the profiles and works of photographers around the world. All images courtesy: Alia Ali.
Top featured image: Stripes, from the series Cast No Evil by Alia Ali, Marrakech, Morocco, 2015. Courtesy the artist.