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Image: Rice Gallery

Pakistani-born installation artist Anila Agha has taken nightlights to a whole new level as her breathtaking luminary, titled Intersections, hangs at Rice Gallery this fall. The giant six-sided piece of wood features laser-cut patterns that cast enchanting shadows from the source of a single hanging light bulb. The idea for the black lacquer wood cube came from Agha’s growing up around Islamic sacred spaces that featured geometric patterns and beautiful architecture.

“I was driven by Pakistan, my home country. In Pakistan, public space isn’t for women,” she says. “I wanted to ask the question, 'How do you exist in a place that doesn’t let you exist?'"

After visiting Spain and seeing Moorish art qualities festooned throughout the cities, in gardens and in palaces, Agha was drawn to people's expressions; faces of awe looking at intricately designed and meticulously artistic spaces decorated by patterned shadows and natural light. Seeing remnants of Pakistan abroad, Agha wanted to recreate that experience with an original piece of her own. So, Agha, who holds an assistant professor position at Indiana University—Purdue University Indianapolis, headed back to her studio to begin the ambitious project.

“I began cutting pieces of paper like you would to make snowflakes. The idea grew from that,” she says of the idea of casting shadowed patterns. In fact, as her imagination grew, so did the project. “The initial piece was supposed to be a super-structure, but the weight wouldn’t hold, so I had to make it smaller.”

The result casts 32-feet-by-34-feet shadows to create architecture in an empty space. Intersections, which she completed at the end of 2013, debuted at the Grand Rapids Art Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and eventually won the museum’s Artprize award, a juried grand prize with a total haul of $300,000. But money—be it grant money (which helped her begin her career, like other artists) or prize money—wasn’t necessarily the first thing on the mind of the one-time Houstonian.

The intersection of history, culture and art in Islamic sacred spaces were always behind the project, she notes. “I’m always looking for a balance between the poetic and the sublime.”

Intersections. Opening reception Thursday, Sep. 24 at 6. On view thru Dec. 6. Free. Rice Gallery, Rice University, 6100 Main St. 713-348-6069. ricegallery.org