Azra Akšamija: Sanctuary

Azra Akšamija: Sanctuary

Kunsthaus Graz

Azra Akšamija & Future Heritage Lab, T-Serai (detail), 2019, Installation view, Venice Biennale, 2021. © Azra Akšamija & Future Heritage Lab.

July 3, 2024
Azra Akšamija
July 5–October 6, 2024
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Kunsthaus Graz
Lendkai 1
8020 Graz

T +43 316 80179200

Where do we feel safe—now and in future? What is sacred to us, what worth protecting? What does belonging mean in a world characterised by cultural mobility, inequality and migration?

In her first major solo exhibition, Sanctuary, Azra Akšamija opens up sheltered spaces of various kinds. Her works explore the conditions and possibilities of coexistence and convergence within what are perceived as fragmented commons. The theme of protection can be experienced in expansive installations in which Akšamija focuses on life in the global community as an interrelationship between people and their cultural imprint, between the urge to economise and the protection of the environment.

Following her concepts of “Transcultural Aesthetics” and “Future Heritage”, the exhibited group of site-specific works focuses on social, ethical and ecological sustainability.

“Drawing on social and cultural practices, my art seeks to empower the alienated and offer a counterpoint to their systemic exclusion.” —Azra Akšamija, 2024

Azra Akšamija’s multidimensional practice ranges from identity-creating clothing, architecture and shelter in transcultural settings. She is concerned with cultural education through art and architecture and the representation of Islamic identities in the West. Her works in the exhibition actively involve the public at Kunsthaus Graz and address issues such as fashion as a constant output created by context and its associated communities. For the artist, these can be partners, scholars, refugees, the museum public or a systematically fed AI that invents future transcultural clothing. Akšamija and her students have programmed a constantly running application that creates digital outfits combining cultures, materials and chance in a humorous way. At the centre of the exhibition is a sheltering refugee tent that can be easily customised, while the communal creation and processing of recycled textiles permeates the space. On the impressive glass windows of the top floor, the artist has arranged familiar discarded 3D glasses in the form of rose windows to filter the sunlight, while at the entrance to the space, wearable slippers play with the religious and social rules of entering a (sacred) space. In search of ways of coming together and understanding, Azra Akšamija recontextualises patterns and places of human coexistence into site-specific installations. Her objects become mediators between social and aesthetic critique.

Akšamija raises critical questions about an exuberant consumer economy, labour conditions, identity politics as well as hybrid future societies and explicitly focuses on clothing and fashion. Fashion as a form of cultural expression and knowledge is presented as a transformative and utopian gesture. Using digital AI tools to design cross-cultural wearables for the present and the future, Akšamija creates fashion that appropriates with relish and at the same time thematises appropriation as an instrument of (critical) reflection on one’s own position.

Taking a consistently interdisciplinary approach, Sanctuary therefore explores the potential of art and architecture to facilitate the process of transformative mediation in cultural or political conflicts, creating a framework for exploring, analysing and intervening in increasingly crisis-ridden socio-political realities.

By encouraging active participation and providing us with how to-tools on site, the solo exhibition is also dedicated to the museum itself. It is seen as a protected space in constant flux and functions as a place of negotiation against the backdrop of the climate and migration crisis.

The exhibition has been created in collaboration with the Future Heritage Lab at MIT and local initiatives such as CARITAS. A catalogue that includes a range of essays and research material will accompany the exhibition.

Curated by Katrin Bucher Trantow and Alexandra Trost.

Azra Akšamija is a professor and director of the Art, Culture and Technology Program at MIT in Massachusetts. Her committed, socially critical and participatory works and her approach to transformative constructions of identity have taken her to museums, mosques, churches and refugee camps, employing site-specific works. She exhibited her works in institutions in Graz such as < rotor > and forum stadtpark, and world-wide at venues such as the Venice Biennale and the Sharjah Museums. The artist was subsequently awarded the Art Prize of the City of Graz in 2019.

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Kunsthaus Graz
July 3, 2024

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