Alia Ali is one of the 25 projects/photographers shortlisted for the 2020 CAP Prize for Contemporary African Photography.
Yemeni-Bosnian artist Alia Ali explores cultures at geographic crossroads. Her work considers how politics, economics, and history collide in fabric patterns and techniques, showing how fabric both unites and divides us.
Focusing on wax print fabric—a form with roots in Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Javanese, Dutch, and African traditions—FLUX captures the way textiles move and migrate across different cultures. This series of photographic portraits present people who are at once concealed and highly visible, their silhouettes warped by textile patterns, their faces covered over by vibrantly colored fabrics.
Surrounded by upholstered frames, these portraits convey both the intimacy of fabric—a material worn close to the body—and the way its seductive colors and prints often obscure the violent colonial history and exploitative global economy. Reflecting on how wax prints came into existence across borders, FLUX reveals how these histories are woven into the very processes and production of the wax print. The resultant portraits evoke the cultural flux resulting from today’s mass migrations and increasing geopolitical instability across the world.
These fabrics in flux are a commodity once considered as precious and as commonplace as gold, frankincense, myrrh, jewelry and, as previously mentioned, humans. FLUX questions the very nature of how things get named, how they are translated, and how, eventually, are reinterpreted. Furthermore, it questions the intention of their production. If it is not for the preservation of heritage, then is it for the propagation of economic wealth? And for that matter, whose wealth?