In her photographic series, Cast No Evil, Alia Ali highlights the notion of the immediate duality that occurs in any given situation; to have one, you must have the other for either to exist. In her words: “Throughout life we are presented with endless examples in which individuals and groups have been excluded from communities based on appearances, beliefs and actions. When this happens, there must always be two, those who impose standards, the decision makers, the ‘included,’ and those they exclude. Communication can be used to both connect and divide, evolve and regress, educate and destroy. Inclusion is, therefore, engaging someone in a dialogue, but not necessarily a verbal one.”
What do you mean with the title Cast No Evil?
“I mean just that. Explore the image, and allow it to be a conduit to your judgements, your impressions, your discomforts. Don’t reject it immediately, but respond to your reactions. If you hate it, that’s a reaction. If you’re drawn to it, ask yourself why? I hope my work is powerful not for what it is, but what it can or may represent to each individual viewer. If these images, have somehow shaken or disrupted an impression, or an idea of the viewer, then I have succeeded and so has the viewer in allowing art to be a powerful mechanism in a better understanding of themselves in regards to the world around them.”
Your work is about duality in life. Have you ever been in a personal situation that allows you to explain the duality?
“I experience duality every single day, in almost every instant. We all do. To know what is right, there must be a wrong, to understand inclusion we must understand exclusion, to know what we want, sometimes we have to know what we don’t want. I think two is the minimum and the variety in between is also important, we can even create it.”
The characters in the portraits, called -Cludes. What are Cludes?
“This work was a response to the idea of inclusion. I chose to approach it from its extreme opposite, exclusion. I call them -Cludes because it’s for the viewer to interpret each, and perhaps this becomes a reflection of the viewer, themselves, as includes, excludes, secludes…”
Can you explain this: “Are they powerful for their anonymity or are we for their confinement”?
“This is a question about power. Being covered can be interpreted as a state of confinement, but in fact, one can be confined whether or not they are veiled or not. By being anonymous, the Cludes have no ownership for what they do, whether it is good or bad. If you are covered, you have the freedom to do anything because you are inconspicuous. Yet, there is still the question of what do they feel if their senses are limited? Do they have other senses? Or are they like us and experience sense in different ways? This is for the viewer to decide.
In this series, I photograph myself- it’s a performance and a journey for myself, just as it is for the viewer. I explore different angles by placing myself in different relations to the fabric as these are auto-portraits. I am both the observed and the observer, the photographer and the photographed, the interviewer and the interviewee. This question that I raise, I have asked it to myself in two ways: “Are they powerful for their anonymity or are we for their confinement?” also “Are we powerful for our anonymity or are they for our confinement?” There is no one answer to this, it’s a question that we need to ask ourselves all the time when we are faced with something in disguise, in confinement, or veiled. I believe power is possible either way.”
Alia Ali (Austria, 1985) is an Yemeni-Bosnian-American visual storyteller and multi-media artist. Having grown up among five languages, her most comfortable mode of communication is image. Her work reflects on the politics and poetics of contested notions surrounding the topics of physical borders, confinement, identity, migration and duality. Alia plays the role of artist, archivist and storyteller by offering a visual and palpable retelling of her images. She draws her influence from research and documentary photography and films captured on her travels.
Alia Ali’s work is currently being shown at the Open Door gallery in Boston. Her work will be part of a show at the Ogden Museum in New Orleans during PhotoNola, one of the most serious photography fairs in the US.