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Tracing Fariba Alam’s artistic evolution
Art auction houses and event directors globally are offering a place of pride to contemporary artists from not only India but also South Asia. The artists from the region with their creative thrust and innovation are beginning to leave an indelible mark on the international art scene.

Of course, amidst the euphoria the fact remains that there are many more deserving artists, still to receive the desired exposure and the much needed platform to showcase their art on the world stage. The ‘India Xianzai’ show in China has put the spotlight firmly on one such highly talented artist. We are referring to Fariba S. Alam whose work at ‘India Xianzai’ was well received. The significant show at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA), Shanghai served as a timely investigation of the growing stature of art from the region.

Fariba Alam skillfully combines traditional imagery with a contemporary touch; classic ideas and time tested subject matter with new-age aesthetic values and forms. Her recent series tries to integrate abstraction, tilework and photography to re-imagine cultural artifacts, turbulent post colonial history and Islamic architecture.

The intricate arrangement of the tiles and repetition in it are indeed striking. It employs Islamic idiom, minimalist mode and conceptual techniques of repetition and seriality. In the process, it reassigns autobiography with transcendental properties, and reconstructs history as present in the creation of space. The artist explains, “I engage with the building of my own iconography in order to assert a self-defined utopia.”

The Brooklyn based video artist and photographer is of Bangladeshi descent. The pan-global sensitivities have shaped her work. Having done her B.A. degree in Middle East and Asian Languages & Cultures with a focus on post-colonial theory from Columbia University (1998), she holds an M.A. in Studio Art & Art Criticism from New York University (2004). In a testimony to her talent she was offered a Fullbright scholarship (1998-99). Among other awards and grants she has won are Aljira Emerge, Aljira Center for Contemporary Art; Exhibition Program, New Jersey (2008); Artist-in-Residence, David & Julia White Colony, Costa Rica (2007); Dean’s Grant for Master’s Thesis, New York University (2004); and Artist Grant, Columbia University (1997).

This socially aware artist is a founding board member of SAWCC and is associated with Sakhi for South Asian Women and The Acid Survivor's Foundation in Bangladesh. Her selected exhibitions include ‘Aljira Emerge 10 Exhibition’ at Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art (2009); 'Perspectives: Women, Art and Islam’, Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art (MoCADA) & Museum for African Art; ‘Erasing Borders, Contemporary Art in the Indian Diaspora’, The Queens Museum of Art, NY (2008); ‘Exploding the Lotus’, Art and Culture Center of Hollywood’, Hollywod, FL, (2007); SAWCC (The South Asian Woman's Creative Collective) Auction, The Guild Gallery, NYC (2007); ‘Sultana’s Dream’ (curator: Jaishri Abichandani), Exit Art, NYC (2007). Her work has also been shown at The American Museum of Natural History, The Asia Society, Bose Pacia Modern, The International Center of Photography, and other prominent venues in New York. As mentioned above, she featured at the ambitious ‘India Xianzai’ museum show curated by Diane Freundl.

Apart from tile work, Fariba Alam is also known to incorporate paintings, colonial photography, old family photo archives and her own photography in her work in order to create fabricated identities and spaces. At 'Perspectives: Women, Art and Islam’ series, she exhibited her work along with five female artists who shared their viewpoint on personal relationship with Islam. She displayed her original photography and painting done on ceramic tiles, alluding to mosaic-tile mosques. The images on the three pieces portrayed religious stories with personal voice, embodying the intersection of spiritual, cultural and personal aspects of her faith.

Another set of ceramic tiles by her showcased at Hammond Museum was clever, revelatory and lovely in display and nature. The artist had transferred photographic imagery of a woman onto the surface of the tiles. Looking up at the ceiling of a building, perhaps a mosque, she was covered in decorative tiles in Islamic calligraphy and floral patterns. There was a riveting, visual newness to the creation, making it one of the highlights of the show.

Elaborating on her artistic philosophy, Fariba Alam has stated, “Conceptually, I am equally interested in rhythmic spiritual states and in the mystic and scientific idea, which life unfolds in defined and continuous patterns.” Her oeuvre is a testimony to the fact that cultural dislocation more often than not will foster new hybrid modes of creative expression particularly among artists of immigrant groups.