Alia Ali: Blue Note

9 September - 12 November 2022

Foto Relevance is pleased to present Blue Note, the gallery's second solo exhibition of works by award-winning multidisciplinary artist Alia Ali. Featuring stunning works from the new LIBERTY and IKATIKAT (2022) series, as well as a selection of fresh works from other series, the exhibit showcases photographic works that see the artist camouflage her sitters in elaborately patterned fabrics. Concealing her subjects' identities in traditional (and often controversial) textiles, and thus anonymizing them, she exposes fraught global histories of colonialism, migration, and language through the richly-colored, enigmatic images.


Ali's work explores the myriad of connections which invisibly bind together pattern and textiles, linguistics and cartographies, peoples and expression. These serendipitous moments of interrelation are captured in the body language of the sitter, the subtle tilt of their head, the careful positioning of pattern draped over their body. Ali's new work is a love letter to those who taught her all she knows of this constellation - to her mother, to the fabric merchants in the marketplace, to the Master Artisans, to the keepers of knowledges, to the storytellers, to the tea makers, to the dyers, to the land. Ali shows that design cannot be divorced from context. Her work subverts the colonial gaze, presenting beauty rather than suffering, ancestral knowledge rather than contemporary trauma, empowerment of the multiple rather than the reduction into a singular. Blue Note will be on view at Foto Relevance from September 9 — November 12, 2022.


  • LIBERTY is a love letter to those who have taught me the most about what I know of pattern, color,...

    LIBERTY is a love letter to those who have taught me the most about what I know of pattern, color, texture, and the expanse of the world of textile – which is the world of linguistics,  constellations, cartographies, and expressions.  When asked how I obtained such a knowledge, the answer is that I owe it to my mother, to those merchants, to the keepers of knowledges, to the protectors of the archives, to the storytellers, to the tea makers, to the dyers, to the Master Artisans, to their apprentices, to the land…


    May you never be forgotten, may you always be acknowledged, and may you forever be seen.


    — Alia Ali


    For centuries, Yemen has been at the crossroads of Africa, Asia, and the islands that pepper the majestic seas in between. Textiles have served as a driving force of cultural, economic and diplomatic exchange, offering a living archive of the communities they have touched. Their motifs have migrated away from the fibers and into the architecture, the design, the porcelains, and the story-telling, offering reminders of the histories that they both share and preserve. 


    Growing up in Sana’a, Yemen, I remember my mother always stressing to us that education wasn’t only what we read, but what we saw, touched, tasted, and smelled. She taught us that in order to be well-rounded we needed to be grounded in the cultures of our community and to know and appreciate the stories we heard and told. I loved to ask questions and to share my impressions and thoughts - however, as we traveled and moved to different parts of the world, I discovered that in some places I was ignored and made to feel unwelcome, hushed as though what I saw didn’t matter. But, it was different in Asia, whether at home in Sana’a, or traveling in Mumbai, Lahore, Hong Kong or Bangkok, I was always accepted, integrated, and seen. The world through my eyes was understood as essential for reminding elders of the cyclical nature of their existence. Children offered a reminder of the wonder, curiosity, and amazement of discovering the world for the first time. 


    Many of my early memories are of traveling with my mother to these places and visiting the local markets. I remember vividly the feeling of entering into spaces where there were textiles stacked and ordered from floor to ceiling, creating perfect walls of carefully arranged colors and textures. The merchants–and even sometimes the Master Artisans themselves– would insist on inviting us in, and would share with us their processes and their histories. It became very clear that they weren’t just makers and sellers, they were storytellers, entrepreneurs, and artists – and they invited me into their world.


    These were my favorite people and places to visit. The process of selling was so much more than a transaction– it was a ritual that had been perfected, as a choreographed dance, all parts of which would play into the final negotiations at the end. But the most important aspect was the journey that was shared together through pattern, pigment and storytelling. There was always an elevated seating area, designed for resting, relaxing, and remaining. Tea was offered as a way of showing hospitality, kindness, trust and comfort. We would commence with niceties to engage mutual curiosities and facilitate the collection of information, and soon enough the flowing of fabrics, teas, and stories would begin. It was through this flow that I developed the rhythm and timing of my own practices. I would sit there for hours, while fabrics were thrown across my legs and lap one after another, until it was no longer only the small pattern that I saw, but also what it looked like within a community of its own.

  • The word that comes to mind most when I think about the experience of fabric finding and garment making is royalty. Not only because of the treatment one receives in the process, but because of the textures and color that takes one on a journey through time and place. The liberated feeling of actively reimagining one's image by defining factors of how the fabric falls, how it pleats, how it fits together. The process of touching the finest and least fine fabrics that exist, knowing the difference between what is good quality or poor, and learning that someone else’s taste might not be my own.


    It was in the markets that I learned to harness my own opinion and to develop an appreciation for what I was drawn to, rather than what I was meant to be drawn to. I didn’t learn this from being told – I learned this by what I observed, felt, and experienced. I learned that cotton is the most exquisite fabric, and the finest cottons are among the finest fabrics made. Cotton has the capacity to both cool the body and to keep the body warm, and the potential to be worn by all classes of society. The fabric impresses the richest of colors, and as a plant itself, cotton both harbors and reflects the language of the natural world. Cotton is also the most difficult fabric that I have worked with thus far, because of its extreme capacity to wrinkle, more so even than silk.


    It is well-known that Liberty cotton is among the finest cottons in the world. The skills required to create these couture fabrics were developed by Indian artisans over hundreds of years, and their place within British culture is a direct result of Britain's violent occupation of India. Taking the artistry as their own, the British disassociated the roots of this ancestral knowledge and beauty from its origin, replacing histories of splendor with narratives and images of suffering, victim-hood, and criminality – all under the trademark of “Liberty.” How can one copyright liberty? How can one steal the knowledge of generations, divorcing them from their ancestors and from their land, in the name of freedom?


    Liberty (2022) is a love letter to those who have taught me the most about what I know of pattern, color, texture, and the expanse of the world of textile – which is the world of linguistics, constellations, cartographies, and expressions. When asked how I obtained such a knowledge, the answer is that I owe it to my mother, to those merchants, to the keepers of knowledges, to the protectors of the archives, to the storytellers, to the tea makers, to the dyers, to the Master Artisans, to their apprentices, to the land… This series is dedicated to all those who have generously taken time, served me tea, and invited me to root my identity in and alongside their own. To this day my wonder and amazement only gets larger and bigger. You’ve taught me that Liberty cannot be owned, trademarked, or captioned, but must be experienced.


    May you never be forgotten, may you always be acknowledged, and may you forever be seen.


    — Alia Ali

  • Alia Ali, Pomm, 2022


    Pomm, 2022
    Featuring hand-dyed and hand-loomed Uzbek Baghmal silk velvet uphostery
  • WARP, 2021-ONGOING



    Alia Ali (Arabic: عاليه علي // Sabean: ‎ 𐩲𐩱𐩡𐩺𐩲|𐩲𐩱𐩡) is  a Yemeni-Bosnian-US  multi-media  artist. A child of migrant linguists, Ali has traveled to sixty-seven countries, lived in and between seven, and grown up among five languages. Her migrations have led her to process the world through interactive experiences and the belief that the damage of translation and interpretation of written language has dis-served particular communities, resulting in the threat of their exclusion, rather than a means of understanding. As an artist who exists on the borders of identifying as West Asian, Eastern European, a United States citizen, queer, culturally Muslim yet spiritually independent, her work explores cultural binaries, challenges culturally sanctioned oppression, and confronts the dualistic barriers of conflicted notions of gender, politics, media, and citizenship. Through her practice, Ali critiques linguistics and inherited political structures and narratives, while simultaneously attempting to counter the polarization and miscommunication that imperils communities across the world, encouraging viewers to confront their own prejudices.


    Working between language, photography, video, textile, and installation, Ali’s work addresses the politicization of the body, histories of colonization, imperialism, sexism, and racism through projects that take pattern and textile as their primary motif. Textile, in particular, has been a constant in Ali’s practice. Her strong belief that textile is significant to all of us, reminds us that we are born into it, we sleep in it, we eat on it, we define ourselves by it, we shield ourselves with it, and eventually, we die in it. While it unites us, it also divides us physically and symbolically. Her work broadens into immersive installations utilizing light, pattern, and textile to move past language and offer an expansive, experiential understanding of self, culture, and nation.


    Ali’s research and practice are also informed by discourses of criminality, Yemeni Futurism, and feminist theory, all of which are tools to unpack practices of refusal and rupture. Ali calls upon oral histories to conceptualize these narratives, while reflecting on contemporary circumstances, in her native land Yemen, her adopted land the United States and the endless places and people that continue to inspire her. Ali is currently expanding her practice by drawing on stories from Yemen including the nostalgic past of Queen Belquis of Saba (also known as the Queen of Sheba). By investigating histories of the distant past, she addresses the realities of the dystopian present in order to carve out spaces for radically imagined possibilities for the future in what has evolved to be Yemeni Futurism.


    Ali has exhibited in numerous solo exhibitions and art fairs across the globe, and her work has been featured in the Financial Times, Le Monde, Art Review, and Hyperallergic. Her work is in collections at the British Museum, Princeton University, the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Tucson Museum of Art, the Anderson Museum of Art, the Benton Museum of Art, and a myriad of international private collections. Ali is the recipient of the Artsy Vanguard Prize 2021.


    In 2022, Ali revealed a newly commissioned work generously supported by the Andrew Mellon Foundation at the Arab American National Museum. The sculpture is an octopus-shaped Yemeni starship that serves as a museum within a museum. The work draws on her research of Yemeni Futurism in which she addresses the active erasure and violent looting of ancient artifacts from her native land Yemen and one of its many ancient civilizations, Saba’a.


    Ali is a graduate of Wellesley College and the California Institute of the Arts. She lives and works in and between Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Marrakech, and recently concluded a residency at the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Program (RAiR) in New Mexico.