Anila Quayyam Agha's "All the Flowers Are For Me (Red)"

‘All the Flowers Are for Me (Red)’ in Cincinnati

Experience the artist Anila Quayyum Agha’s beautiful and immersive installation at the Cincinnati Art Museum through May 30.

The red steel cube, laser-cut with intricate designs and suspended from the ceiling, is deceptively simple. Illuminated from within, the cutouts create shadows reflected and imprinted throughout the room. But when you walk among the shadows, it becomes clear that seeing Anila Quayyum Agha’s “All the Flowers Are for Me (Red)” is a thought-provoking, immersive experience.

The sculpture, on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum through May 30, is part of a series of large-scale works playing with light and shadow, each crafted of laser-cut steel and informed by the ornate patterns seen in art and architecture in the Indianapolis-based artist’s native Pakistan, as well as the larger Islamic world, and her travels in Alhambra, Spain.

Inspired by a serendipitous accident — the shadows created by light shining through a sheet of paper Agha had idly cut designs into — the artist set out to create sculptures that were not only beautiful, but also packed with meaning.

“If you think about a space with light and shadow, in a way when you’re walking through, it gives you the privacy that you require if you want to be alone,” she says. “But it gives you a kind of intimacy with strangers as well.”

That dichotomy is one example of how opposing-yet-interconnected forces inspired her. Agha also cites how her mother’s death shortly after her son’s wedding showed the concept of life and death as being intertwined in a way that echoed the play of light and shadow.

Her use of strong colors is inspired in part by the architectural process of pietra dura used in Islamic architecture. The color red was chosen because Pakistani brides traditionally wear red. The artist’s status as a woman in Pakistan kept her secluded from certain places, and then as an immigrant in the U.S., she was sometimes made to feel like an outsider. These occurrences prompted her to create sculptures that are intended to be spaces where all feel welcome and invited into.

“That’s where this idea of ‘All the Flowers’ came from,” she says. “It’s the continuation of me exploring this concept of creating spiritual, yet safe spaces that do not say ‘no’ to anybody.”

This exhibition has been extended to run through May 30, 2021. 953 Eden Park Dr., Cincinnati 45202, 513/721-2787,